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Special Measures

July 12th 2018
In light of President's Trump's two-day working visit to London, 12th - 13th July, Dr. Ursula Hackett examines UK-US relations in the Trump-Brexit Era

Facts would suggest that the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump's election are linked. Driven by nationalistic forces, both votes defied the conventional wisdom of the commentariat. The two campaigns also shared personal connections. Leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage stumped for Trump. Billionaire Trump-backer Robert Mercer funded Leave.eu. Cambridge Analytica gathered data for both campaigns.

Given palpable connections between Trump and Brexit forces,it is tempting to think that all Brexiteers are Trump-loyalists and that all Trump-opposers wanted his UK visit cancelled. The data demonstrates that neither of these propositions is entirely true.

Take the idea that Brexiteers are Trumpists. British Election Study (BES) data shows that white British citizens who believe there is a lot of discrimination against whites were over 60 percentage points more likely to support Brexit than whites who believe there is a lot of discrimination in favour of them. Similar fears about race, immigration and loss of status drove many Trump supporters in 2016.

But the equivalence of Brexit and Trump support should not be overstated. In late 2016, the BES asked"How happy or how disappointed are you that Donald Trump won the recent US presidential election?" Respondents answered on a scale from 0 ("extremely disappointed") to 10 ("extremely happy"). British people were not happy at all, and that included Leavers.

More than 40% of Brits recorded the lowest score, 0. The average was 2.6. Although Leavers (average score 4) were more positive than Remainers (average score 1.2), they were still disappointed with Trump's win on average. Farage's UKIP supporters were the most positive of all British voters, but even they were hardly delighted (average score 5.4).

But does this hostility towards Trump translate into opposition to working with him? Since 2 million voters signed a petition to disinvite Trump from his state visit, readers would be forgiven for thinking that the "special relationship" was in crisis.

Not so. YouGovdata shows that by 2018, more Brits favoured an official state visit (45%) than opposed it (39%). Despite widespread antipathy towards the President, 47% of Brits in the January 2018 poll said that the UK government should try to work with him (while 36% said the UK government should distance themselves from the President).

In the context of the President's working visit to Britain, the overall picture is pragmatism amidst dislike. Although many of the same forces that propelled the Brexit vote also assisted Trump's presidential bid, Leavers are not necessarily enamoured of the President, but this should not endanger UK-US deals. Even a third of Remainers support a working relationship, if not a "special" one.

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