What does President Trump mean for the US/UK special relationship?

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4 January
09:58
4 January
10:55

Donald Trump will vastly complicate the special relationship. This is in addition to the problems the two countries encountered in the wake of the Brexit vote in the UK. One of the issues is that Britain has long traded on the idea that it is America’s first point of contact in Europe. But the fact that Britain is now negotiating what seems to be a fairly acrimonious divorce from the European Union will vastly complicate that project. Much of the resources from the UK will be directed at extricating itself from the EU. 

"American diplomats and British diplomats have always said that in difficult moments the relationship is strong. Because it is based on national interests and not personalities, it will persevere."

The other problem is that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have got off on the right foot with the British Government. His close relationship with the UKIP leader Nigel Farage is seemingly prioritised over his relationship with people such as the British Ambassador in Washington, the British Prime Minister or indeed any other people who are actually in government. Farage has already held a meeting with top Republican allies of Donald Trump and has posted photographs of himself and the President-Elect on the internet. And yet the British Prime Minister still has not sat down with any members of Donald Trump’s incoming administration 

American diplomats and British diplomats have always said that in difficult moments the relationship is strong. Because it is based on national interests and not personalities, it will persevere. So I think you’re not going to see a straightforward split between the US and the UK. However, I think certainly Donald Trump won't see the strategic value of Britain to the United States unless Britain puts an enormous amount of effort into making that clear to the US. With the Brexit negotiations and a number of other geopolitical crises going on, it's not clear where that energy is going to come from, within the UK. 

So what could the consequences of a slightly weakened US-British relationship be? First and foremost it could be felt in security. Security is a major geopolitical dimension of the special relationship. It's a tricky one too because a lot is based on intelligence co-operation. And it’s clear that Trump has not started off on the right foot with his own American intelligence agencies. We’ve seen Trump already reject assertions by his own security agencies that Russian hackers intervened in the presidential election

"We’re already in uncharted territory."

How things work out will be heavily dependent on the extent to which Trump can manage the relationship with Britain, but also the relationship with his own intelligence agencies. If British intelligence agencies are saying Russia is interfering in elections – and American intelligence agencies end up being purged by Trump or just not having any purchase in the White House because he simply won't accept their findings – it’ll put a significant damper on security co-operation. 

I would assume once he's in, the bureaucratic wheels and the bureaucratic inertia will keep the US-UK relationship going. But it’s also unprecedented for a president to publicly refuse to believe the finding of intelligence agencies. We’re already in uncharted territory

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