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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

As Brexit Storm Gathers, Britain Looks to Trump for Hope

By Henry Ridgwell August 1, 2019

As the likelihood of Britain crashing out of the European Union with no deal at the end of October appears ever more likely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a tumultuous first few weeks in office. The British currency, the pound sterling, has plunged to two-year lows against the U.S. dollar and the Euro, while there are warnings of widespread disruption in the event of a so-called no-deal Brexit.

Faced with an intransigent EU and a bleak economic outlook, Johnson is looking for help across the Atlantic to a like-minded ally in the White House. U.S. President Donald Trump offered warm words as his British counterpart took office.

"I think we can have a great relationship. I think he will be a great prime minister," Trump told reporters Friday, adding that work on a trade deal was underway.

"I think we can do three to four or five times what we're doing (in trade)," he said.

US trade can't replace EU

They were soothing words for an ally in turmoil, but typical Trump rhetoric, said analyst Tim Oliver of Loughborough University London.

"No trade deal can deliver that type of boost in the short term. Therefore the relationship with the EU remains incredibly important for the U.K," he said.

Britain's economy is being buffeted by the threatening storm of a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister is looking across the Atlantic for hope.

"The United States is, has been and will be for the foreseeable future our No. 1 political, military friend and partner," Boris Johnson told reporters following his victory in the ruling Conservative party leadership race.

That message is aimed at Washington and Europe, Oliver said.

"The possibility of the U.K. negotiating something successfully with the United States, they hope, will be leverage on a European Union that has struggled sometimes to negotiate with the United States," he said.

Chemistry between leaders

Supporters hope chemistry between Trump and Johnson could expedite a trade deal.

"There are similarities beyond the blondeness, in terms of the kind of impulsiveness, in terms of the personalities overshadowing the policies. But there's also similarities in the constitutional constraints they face," Oliver added.

Johnson's majority in Parliament is wafer thin, making it extremely difficult for him to pass any significant legislation over Brexit.

In the U.S., the Democrats control the House of Representatives and have vowed to uphold the Good Friday Agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland – something imperiled by Brexit, said analyst John Springworth of the Center for European Reform.

"Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress have said pretty clearly that if there is an Irish border, then the U.K. won't be getting a trade deal with the U.S. anytime soon," he said.

Other issues

Beyond Brexit, Britain under Johnson faces other challenges. Iran has seized a British-flagged oil tanker and is ramping up its nuclear enrichment. Washington wants Britain to follow its lead in withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Meanwhile pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong accuse Britain, the former colonial power, of abandoning them to China amid a crackdown on the demonstrations.

"There are a whole host of things where relations between the U.S. and the U.K. could come under strain: Iran, China, climate change, torture, you name it," warned analyst Oliver.

In Europe many fear Brexit is undermining security, Springworth said.

"Geopolitically, they are concerned that we're seeing the West fracturing at a time when you have a sort of revanchist Russia, which is causing all sorts of difficulties, not only in the U.K. and the U.S. but also within the EU. And you also have China which is becoming much more assertive," he said.

Prime Minister Johnson has spoken of a new "golden age" for Britain, mirroring Trump's pledge to "Make America Great Again." But with less than 100 days until Brexit, that optimistic vision could soon be swamped by events beyond his control.

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