I am delighted that our Prime Minister will, at the end of this week, become the first world leader to meet with President Trump since his inauguration. It confirms to me what I argued towards the end of last year; that the then President-elect’s affinity for the UK expressed through his rhetoric meant that a UK-US trade deal was much more likely to happen.
We need only recall what Barack Obama said when he came to the UK in June, at David Cameron’s request, in order to intervene in the referendum. He said the UK would be at the ‘back of the queue’ of countries seeking a trade deal with the USA if it were to leave the EU. It’s likely that we would be in much the same position if Hilary Clinton were poised to enter the White House in January. The situation certainly looks different now.
President Trump has not just expressed an affinity for the UK, he has also expressed an affinity for the new political direction of the UK as it prepares to embark upon its process of exiting the EU. This was made crystal clear in his recent interview for The Times with Michael Gove and Kai Diekmann. During the closing days of his election campaign, he even went as far as to speculate that a Trump victory would be akin to “Brexit plus plus plus”.
My own view is that there are fundamental differences between the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory. These differences are eclipsed by the even deeper differences in the manner in which the respective campaigns were run. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that Mr Trump himself saw and sees a parallel.
There is of course a positive consequence of this for the UK. It means President Trump’s administration has a vested interest in Brexit being successful. This reinforces my view that a UK-US trade deal is now more likely to happen full-stop, more likely to happen at a faster rate than it otherwise would have done, and more likely to be received with greater enthusiasm in Washington.
Even long before Michael Gove’s interview with President Trump, or the knowledge that Theresa May would be the first world leader to meet with the new President, I was not alone in this view. In November I questioned the Permanent Under Secretary at the FCO, Sir Simon McDonald, on his view of the matter when he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. He confirmed that it is now his belief that a bilateral trade deal between the UK and the USA will happen far quicker as a direct result of Mr Trump’s victory.
Many of my constituents have asked me why I am not more sceptical about the prospect of a fast UK-US trade deal, after all, President Trump is clearly not short of protectionist rhetoric and has already withdrawn the USA from a large multilateral trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). I am not sceptical because a bilateral trade deal between the UK and the USA is hardly comparable to the likes of TPP. The UK and USA have similar labour costs, similar regulations, and their economies are both at the furthest stages of development. Consequently, the idea of the UK undercutting American industries as Mexico and China have done is implausible.
On top of this, the UK and the USA are each other’s largest foreign investor and each other’s largest foreign job creator. UK firms in America employ over one million people, which closely reflects the number employed by American firms here in the UK. We have similar business customs, a similar legal framework, an increasingly integrated culture and – of course – a common language. It was announced in the Autumn Statement that, amongst other pro-business and pro-investment initiatives, the UK will have the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20 by 2020. The US is going to want to have unencumbered access to the goods and services that such a business environment will produce.
With President Trump now having removed the USA from TPP, the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) appears bleaker than it already was. EU leaders have effectively said that negotiations over TTIP have completely fizzled out. Meanwhile President Trump has seemed more interested in courting those who would see the EU fail rather than building bridges with the EU itself, and has even given advice to the UK Government via Twitter that such people should be considered for an Ambassadorial role. One thing is clear – Donald Trump’s actions thus far paint a picture where future EU-US relations are not at their rosiest.
If President Trump expresses more verve for a UK-US deal than for TTIP or some sort of replacement, the UK could see its negotiating position with the EU bolstered as it undergoes the complex exiting process over the coming years. The US is a market that the EU certainly does not want to distance itself from. The ‘Special Relationship’ is often said to have worked best when the UK acted as an intermediary between the US and Europe. With EU-US relations seemingly on the descendant, at least for now, could the UK not step into this role again?