Over this weekend, I have found reading articles from right of centre news outlets about the Trump visit and its relationship to Brexit fascinating. They come from a place that can only be arrived at with either a total ignorance of or a wilful disregard for the entire trading history of the United States of America as well as everything that is indisputable about Donald Trump, even the stuff the British Right claims to like about him.
The idea here seems to be that May should be willing to give the EU one last take it or leave it offer that will be rejected, and then the UK should walk away from the table and embrace a no deal scenario. The reason this won’t be a disaster is because essentially some shiny new US trade deal that will be signed in fifteen seconds is going to make everything not only okay, but much, much better. This is so powerfully wrongheaded, even when you just stick to the most basic facts and try and avoid the politics of it all, not to mention the Irish problem which I won’t even touch on here, that I will try and be as to the point as possible.
The USA always does lopsided trade deals – lopsided massively in their favour. Not most of the time, but always. If the Brexiteers really want to understand the kinds of trade deals the US signs itself up to, they could actually take the time to study NAFTA, its articles as well as its history. This is not an agreement between nations of equals – it is a take or leave it proposition that only those so economically weak they would be willing sign up to such a state of vassalage (Mexico) or those whose economies are so intertwined with America’s due to geography anyhow (Canada) will take, with the US as the master country. For the non-American NAFTA countries, a bad deal really is better than no deal. And remember: Trump doesn’t think NAFTA is slanted enough in America’s favour, a warning for any trade deal he’d put his name to during his administration.
Just to note here: I don’t think the US is wrong for doing things this way. They are the most powerful nation, both economically and militarily, in the history of the human race. It would actually be weird if they weren’t like they were. I just don’t get how British right-wingers, particularly the nationalist ones who should feel something like this in their bones, can’t seem to understand basic historical facts.
Turning to Trump himself, one thing the British Right is correct about him that a lot of those further to the left do not get is that Trump, for all his inarticulacy and boorishness, is not an idiot. He knows what he’s doing here. Yet the British Right takes his motivations for wanting to interfere in the Brexit process and make BoJo PM for the exact opposite of what they actually are. Assured that the EU are all venal scumbags who want nothing but pain for the United Kingdom, the British Right have convinced themselves that the Donald is just waiting to embrace a Trans-Atlantic bromance that will be mutually beneficial. Except Trump never does mutually beneficial – he doesn’t even think that such a thing exists. He takes all interaction as being zero sum. What he wants is for the UK to crash out with no deal, and then when we’re desperate and have no one else, he gets to talk terms with us. All his terms and his terms alone, take it or leave it.
Donald Trump is the first post-WWII American president to see European security as not really his problem. It became an unchallengable, bipartisan assumption in Washington that European peace was vital to American stability. While that made complete sense during the Cold War, it has been less obvious, from an American perspective, why they should care so much about what goes on in Europe these days. Trump clearly sees Europe as a bunch of freeloaders who get to have overpumped public services on the back of American sweat and toil. Like Putin, he finds the EU an annoying monopoly over one of the world’s richest markets and wants to break it up so he can divide and conquer. So Trump tells France to leave the EU hoping they’ll be isolated and suddenly begging for NAFTA minus. It’s all logical when you take any greater value structure whatsoever out of the equation and just look at it for what it is.
If the Brexiteers want to cling to the 52%, one can hardly blame them. But they should at least open their eyes to what Trump very obviously has in mind along the way. He wants Boris to be prime minister because he happens to like Boris, but Trump also sees that he’s a buffoon who will probably sign over Buckingham Palace to Trump personally if he asked him nicely enough. He wants to destabilise Britain and then pick up the pieces. Again, it’s what he does. While he doesn’t have much of the Washington establishment on his side, punitive trade deals with other countries is a long time speciality. The Donald isn’t acting out of concern for the special relationship – he is acting in what he sees as his own country’s best interests. This should be something the Brexiteer Right implicitly understands, and yet their Brexit related nervous breakdown seems to have blinded them to the reality of this. He’s not on our side guys, he’s looking out for his own. Perhaps you should start doing the same.