US election seen from the UK: "Piggy in the middle"

US election seen from the UK: "Piggy in the middle"

Peter Foster is the public policy editor at the Financial Times in London. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Gabrielle Debinski: How much do the British people and government care about what's going on with the US election?

PF: You know, American elections are always box office events, even in the UK, but there is a lot going on here at the moment. There is a huge amount of fallout from the coronavirus crisis. A lot of unemployment coming down the tracks. And [recently] a big scandal about the handling of school examination results because exams didn't happen. So those domestic concerns override the impact of the US election immediately.


But Donald Trump is clearly an absolutely global figure, and he's very unpopular in the UK. So the question as to whether or not Donald Trump survives or not, which I suspect is the way most British ordinary people would frame the election, is one that does resonate over here.

GD: How would a Biden foreign policy towards the UK be different from the Trump administration's over the past four years?

PF: If you're the British government, like everybody, you've had to deal with the capriciousness, if that's the right word, of the Trump White House.

British governments are always, to some degree, at the mercy of the whims of the White House.

But with Donald Trump, it's sort of unique, almost on a daily basis. It is extremely difficult to deal in a sort of standardized way with Donald Trump. And I think we've seen, you know, those governments that have done well with Trump — "Bibi" Netanyahu in Israel and the Saudis, who are used to dealing with strongmen.

The British government, frankly, despite its Brexiteer credentials — which Donald Trump obviously is nominally in favor of — has struggled to adjust. And therefore, one of the things I think they will be hoping for from a Biden White House, if it comes to that, is stability, the reversion to familiar patterns, to consistency, to the old world, as they would see.

GD: On the surface Boris Johnson has enjoyed a very amicable relationship with President Trump. Do you still think that the British government is hoping for a return to the "predictability" that would come with a Biden administration?

PF: They would never say that but I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a certain amount of relief in the British government if a Biden administration gets in there.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are nominally more "pally" but it's also true, I think, that, for example, on Huawei, Trump "bawled out" Boris Johnson down the phone over his decision initially to allow Huawei to take part in 5G network. So to suggest that it's been a rosy relationship just because a Brexiteer Boris Johnson has been in Number 10 [Downing street], I think is simplistic.

The question perhaps is more that, if Biden gets in, is the British government overestimating what the return to the new normal would be? I think with Brexit, with the UK being on its own, London is going to have to adjust to being "piggy in the middle" between Brussels and Washington in terms of trade, and will have to triangulate much more actively its diplomatic relations between Washington and EU capitals — as well as its new trade partners in the Asia Pacific. I don't think a Biden administration suddenly solves all those problems, which are, you know, the result of the UK's decision to quit the European Union.

GD: I want to turn back to the to the domestic issues you mentioned. The British government's furlough scheme — a response to the COVID-induced economic crisis — is is set to end in October. What comes next once that scheme ends?

PF: When the furlough scheme ends, the fiscal anesthetic wears off from the coronavirus crisis. You could see a really, really difficult autumn coming down the tracks for the British government just when your election is taking place in the States.

Trade groups here are already talking about unemployment — bloodbath unemployment — going back to the levels it was in the early 80s, which would be incredibly difficult at a time when coronavirus numbers will probably be going up seasonally with the winter, and the British government will be absolutely in the kind of white heat of a Brexit negotiation [Ed: on trade relations with the EU, which is supposed to be completed by the end of the year]. The British government will be juggling those three balls come election time in November. It will have a lot on its mind.

GD: Looking back now, how much did the outcome of the 2016 election affect relations between the US and UK?

PF: It's a really good hypothetical question. I think if Clinton had won, Europe, Brussels, and Paris would have been much less jumpy about Brexit and therefore might have been more accommodating to the UK, less defensive in its negotiations.

We have ended up with the hardest possible Brexit as a result of that, because, if you remember 2016, the referendum happened for the UK to leave the EU and then Donald Trump won that election — that shock election victory — and suddenly, Trump was really trolling Germany and coming out and questioning the value of NATO. It felt like there was a sort of populist revolution going on all around the world and Brussels felt it was the last bulwark against that and therefore it dug its heels in really quickly.

With a Clinton foreign policy, we would have seen continuity with the climate change agreement. We would have seen the JCPOA [with Iran] persist. It would have felt much more normal, I think, much less mercantilism, much less confrontation with China. And I think that background probably would have made it easier for the UK to transition into its new world post Brexit.

GD: Is Downing Street jumpy about the increasing hostility between the US and China?

This government has always tried to hedge its bets. Investment rates in the UK from China are much higher than they are across the rest of Europe. But, you know, the UK has had to hedge its bets on Huawei because of the Trump White House.

Even if it had remained a member of the EU, the UK would have struggled to be "piggy in the middle" between Washington and Beijing, as they are at the moment.

This interview is part of the GZERO project Global voices on the US election, which you can find in full here.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

More Show less

500: Fuel shortages in conflict-ridden Haiti are putting many hospital patients at risk. If fuel isn't delivered ASAP, UNICEF says around 500 people – including children and COVID patients – are at very high risk of deterioration. Supplies and deliveries have been disrupted for weeks because of heightened gang activity in the country.

More Show less

Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

More Show less

Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

More Show less

ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal