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February 18, 2017

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Drawing Parallels Between Brexit And Trump Presidency


- Anamitra Mukhopadhyay, Litigation Assistant [ Kennedys LLP, London ]

Anamitra Mukhopadhyay

While there are certain differences between the two campaigns, there are vital links in the form of both campaigns taking an anti-immigration stance and endorsing the ideology of challenging the current establishment.

“I think really people see a big parallel. A lot of people are talking about that. Not only the United States but other countries. People want to take their country back.” These are the comments made by President-elect Donald Trump in relation to the decision made by the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU). Furthermore, during his presidential campaign, Mr Trump had stated that his presidency will mark a “Brexit plus plus plus”. What did Mr Trump mean by this comment? Is he right in assuming that there are strong parallels between the outcomes of the US presidential election and Brexit? This article explores the different ideologies which link Brexit and Donald Trump’s entry into the White House. The article also analyses the future of the UK-US “special relationship”.

“The Immigration Problem”
Few will disagree that immigration has been at the heart of both Brexit and Trump presidential campaigns. “Let’s take back control” used in pro-Brexit campaigns and “Make America great again” have uncanny similarities. These slogans signify a sense of social tension brewing within Britain and America. There is also an element of nostalgia involved. Britain and America were once perceived by their citizens to be great nations but are no longer seen to be so.

The above mentioned slogans also uncover a deep-rooted problem - the immigration problem. Somehow, people believe that mass immigration has had a negative impact on their livelihoods. People are unhappy with the idea of free movement of people which allows citizens of the EU member states to reside and work in any of the other member states. Similarly, the American population is unimpressed with Barack Obama’s legacy when it comes to immigration with many believing that Obama will leave behind an outmoded and overwhelmed system, with nearly 11 million people living in the US illegally.

What has paved way for such distaste for immigration? In the US and the UK, gaps between the more affluent and poorer sections of the societies have widened. Working class people have been hard hit by rising bills while seldom benefiting from globalization and multiculturalism. As a result, many start to draw links between the economic and cultural effects of immigration. For many families, immigration represents the loss of jobs and opportunities. Others are uncomfortable with the very idea of multiculturalism altering the identities and “values” represented by their respective countries. Since Mr Trump and Brexit offer to curb immigration and promise to put the interests of the American and British people first, people were willing to give these underdogs a chance. Hence, when Trump is commenting on his presidency bringing “Brexit plus plus plus”, he is keen to point out the similarities between the agenda of the two - Brexit marks the victory for the British people while Donald Trump’s presidency will champion the interest of the American people above all others.

The People’s Revolt Against The Establishment

Brexit and Trump victories are further linked by the people’s apparent distaste for the current governments. In an era of globalization, many sections of the society feel “left behind”. This might explain why Trump drummed up votes in states such as Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin that have all seen a decline in the manufacturing industry in recent years. Consequently, part of America felt “left behind” and this created a strong distaste for the liberal elite.

With people feeling left behind and let down by the current establishment, they saw Mr Trump’s presidency as a fresh start. Trump was keen to point out his distaste for bureaucracy and the liberal elite. Link this with the FBI’s last minute attempt at investigating Hillary Clinton’s infamous email scandal and then miraculously clearing Mrs Clinton of any charges. This marked a level of secrecy which many felt was at the root of bureaucracy. In contrast, people saw Trump as an individual who was not discrete about any matter, no matter how radical or scandalous the matter may seem. Trump could be seen to wear his heart on his sleeves and for many people, this was a refreshing change.

Similarly in the UK, people also felt disassociated from the government. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, claimed that he had underestimated the resentment of the general public for the government in the run up to Brexit. There is an element of truth in Mr Osborne’s statement. Mr Osborne and other Conservative MPs can hardly deny that sections of the British society were discontent with David Cameron’s spending cuts and felt marginalized by the Conservative government. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s wholehearted attempts at pursuing the British public to vote in his favor (remain) also backfired. Mr Cameron’s critics saw his tactics as distasteful attempts at influencing them. They wanted to reject an institution backed by Mr Cameron. More importantly, they wanted to reject the notion of a politician and/or institution telling them what to do and “pretending to know what is best for the general public.” For many, Brexit and a Trump presidency marked a shift of power from the elites into the hands of the “common people.”

The Non-Voters Have Their Say

During the run up to Brexit and American election, political commentators, media and polls had predicted that the British and American public will stick with what they know. Hence, the mornings of June 24, 2016 and November 9, 2016 brought shock waves across the globe. For many, the unexpected had happened.

Just weeks prior to the American election, chief Brexit instigator and interim leader of the UK Independent Party, Nigel Farage, had commented that “the greatest parallel between the Brexit vote and to what may happen on November 8 is that Brexit mobilized a large number of non- voters -- indeed, some people who had never voted in their lives.” According to Mr Farage, “that was what secured the victory.”

Let us consider the significance of Mr Farage’s statement. While some people may not have voted previously due to their age, others may have felt disappointed with the choices available to them. Brexit and a Trump presidency offered a chance to challenge the establishment and an opportunity to initiate major changes. Therefore, when it came to voting, approximately 2.8 million new voters were keen to have their say. They had the chance to be part of a movement which rejects the status quo and instigates radical changes. However, Mr Farage fails to acknowledge that the non-voting younger generation may have also helped to secure Brexit. Only 36% of the 18-24 year olds chose to vote which was a massive blow for the Remainers who were backing on the liberal outlook of the younger generation to win the campaign.

Mr Farage may be overtly optimistic in suggesting that the same theory applies in the American election. In the US, nearly 40 million eligible voters did not vote. In a survey, many voters who had previously voted for the Democratic Party stated that they would have voted if Bernie Sanders had been in the race instead of Hillary Clinton. If we review the statistics, in Wisconsin, Mrs Clinton tallied 230,000 less votes than Obama did in 2012. In comparison, Mr Trump gained the same number of votes as Mitt Romney in 2012. This indicates that Trump did not gain new supporters - it was more accurate to suggest that Hillary Clinton lost traditional votes.

In conclusion, the rise of non-voters may have sealed the deal in the case of Brexit but the lack of voters led to Trump’s triumph.

Is A Trump Presidency A Blessing For Post- Brexit UK?

Stephen Booth, acting director of the political group, Open Europe, commented on the potential benefits of a Trump presidency. According to Mr Booth, EU member states may be concerned with America’s potential disengagement from Europe on security and foreign policy matters and turn to the UK as a possible ally. Mr Booth may have valid reasons for being optimistic. After all, Trump is a critic of international trade treaties, including The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This is a deal currently being negotiated between the EU and US which could create the world’s biggest free trade of 850 million consumers. During the presidential election, Trump had even suggested that the UK will take precedence over other European countries as both countries are “like minded”.

In contrast to Trump, Obama has been skeptical about the UK’s decision to break away from the EU and had previously suggested that the UK may be “at the back of the queue” when it came to trade deals. In comparison, Mr Trump had applauded Britain’s decision to “take back control” and had assured that Brexit will not have a negative impact on the UK-US relationship. With Hillary Clinton reported to have taken Obama’s anti-Brexit stance, the future of the UK-US trade deals may have been in jeopardy if Mrs Clinton had been in power.

While many have reasons to be optimistic at the thought of a Trump presidency, it is too early to tell whether a Trump presidency will benefit Britain. Many European politicians, including a senior member of Angela Merkel’s Social Democrat coalition party, Axel Schaffer, has warned Theresa May that Trump’s promises to treat the UK in a favorable manner may come to nothing. During his presidential campaign, Trump had made a wave of promises including temporarily banning Muslims from the US and imprisoning Mrs Clinton. These are some of the promises which he later reneged on. Hence, Mr Schaffer’s skepticism towards Trump is justifiable to a certain extent.

Additionally, a lot depends on the UK’s negotiation with the EU and the outcome after Article 50 is triggered. One needs to remember that Trump is a businessman. If he is to deliver his promise to “make America great again” he will have to prioritize America’s interests before engaging in any trade deals. As it stands, Britain’s place in the European free market is at risk. As a member of the EU, Britain has access to one-third of the world’s markets. The 2015 official statistics show that the UK exported £133 billion worth of goods to the rest of the European Union, accounting for almost half of global goods exports. Few will disagree that it is not in the UK’s economic interest to leave the single market. If Britain loses its place in the single market, it will create a high level of uncertainty and chaos. As a businessman as well as the representative of his country, Trump may have to re-evaluate whether America will benefit from a UK-US trade. Trump may also find an EU-US trade to be more beneficial. If we are to learn anything from the outcomes of the EU Referendum and the US election campaign, we should prepare ourselves to be surprised.

Does Trump Presidency Equal A Brexit Plus Plus Plus?

Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are not wrong in linking Brexit with a Trump Presidency. While there are certain differences in the ideologies between the two campaigns, there are vital links. Both campaigns took an anti-immigration stance and endorsed the ideology of challenging the current establishment. Despite worldwide skepticism, the majority of the British and American people saw both Brexit and Trump as fresh chapters. The British people did not share the apprehensions of a global recession and the American public were not concerned about the impact of Trump’s radical ideologies on America’s global image. In the end, the prospect of changes brought about by Brexit and a Trump presidency triumphed over any skepticism or potential consequences.

Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.

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