This week Hillary Clinton finally clinched the Democratic Presidential nomination, and has been endorsed by President Obama. Unless something goes badly wrong, she will become the next (and indeed first female) President of the United States. What’s the likely impact of this on the United Kingdom, depending on whether it stays or leaves the European Union?
No matter the outcome of the referendum, the next chapter of the Special Relationship is likely to chronicle some unfamiliar strains, and European politics is the prime reason for this.
Come November, the most widely expected and least controversial anticipated scenario is that President Clinton will be meeting with David Cameron, who remains Prime Minister of the United Kingdom he successfully campaigned to stay in a ‘reformed’ European Union.
This would please Hillary, who has echoed her President’s sentiments. She had this communicated through her senior policy advisor, Jake Sullivan, who told the Observer at the end of April that she “believes that transatlantic cooperation is essential, and that cooperation is strongest when Europe is united. She has always valued a strong United Kingdom in a strong EU. And she values a strong British voice in the EU.” So far, so status quo.
But while she putatively shares the Prime Minister’s stance on British membership of the Union, her view of his European politics is not so straight-forward. Unsurprisingly, we know this by means of her private emails. Last year, the Guardian reported that, in the run up to Cameron’s election in 2010, Clinton frequently corresponded with her confidante Sidney Blumenthal on the subject of his gross inexperience, particularly in the field of foreign policy.
One subject of particular scorn was the fact that Cameron’s attempt to derail the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty while opposition Tory leader had severely irritated the heads of several European states. Clinton termed his behaviour “so revealing and whacky”, which in turn revealed that Mrs. Clinton has little understanding of – or sympathy for – the widespread and long-standing discontent about the European Union that exists within the British Conservative Party, and which the Prime Minister has been battling so tiringly to overcome for so long.
A vote to remain would make Cameron’s relationship with Clinton much simpler, but this fundamental misunderstanding could prove a continued source of diplomatic difficulty if he is pressured into seeking further reform by the prospect of losing his party’s confidence.
In the event of a vote to leave, however, it’s more than likely that a President Clinton would be dealing with someone else entirely. Building a relationship with a Brexiteer Prime Minister such as Boris Johnson could very much go either way. On the one hand, she might privately resent the added complications of dealing with the United Kingdom in a separate capacity to the European Union when it comes to economic matters.
On the other hand, there is one issue on which the two might just gel very well indeed. Both President Obama and David Cameron are desperate to seal the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union by the end of this year. Obama in particular has made calls for it to get done quickly, in the face of “upcoming political transitions – in the United States and Europe”. This is especially the case because Hillary has expressed grave doubts about the deal. While under pressure from the formerly insurgent Bernie Sanders, she strongly criticized its corporate overtones.
On the same issue Boris has performed a spectacular U-Turn. In 2014 he used his Telegraph column to urge politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to “ignore the Left-wing mumbo-jumbo and support a treaty that will make us all richer”. He even invoked his political hero to proclaim that “this deal would have Churchill beaming.”
But he’s since used his stance on Brexit to criticize the Union’s fumbling diplomacy and accused the EU of being the sole obstacle to Britain getting the trade deal it wants with America, likening the joint efforts of the 28 member bloc to a “pantomime horse”.
Some think that the so-called Special Relationship could experience a “second renaissance” if Clinton claims the White House. She has always lauded the vexing concept on visits to the UK and is known to think more fondly of it than Barack Obama. Would she really follow her President’s warning and put the United Kingdom “at the back of the queue” for a trade deal if it left the EU?
It’s not likely. She would be keen to seek a deal quickly. Doing so would both further discredit the Trumpist protectionism she will have denounced and pander to the anti-corporatist Democrats that Bernie stole away from her. And there’s nothing that Boris Johnson would like better than to frame himself as the leader who emancipated Britain from the shackles of the European Union in order to renew the transatlantic alliance. It could be match made in heaven.