Dec 8, 2019 - World

Why Trump cares about this week's U.K. elections

Trump and Boris Johnson

Trump and Johnson at the NATO summit in London this month. Photo: Steve Parsons-WPA Pool/Getty Images

President Trump will be watching another political contest this week: The U.K.'s Dec. 12 general election will decide what happens to Brexit and if Prime Minister Boris Johnson — aka "Britain Trump" — remains in charge.

Why it matters: If Johnson's Conservatives win the majority in Parliament, Brexit clears the way for the bilateral U.S.-U.K. trade relationship that Trump favors over negotiating with the European Union.

  • But if Johnson falls short, one scenario is a coalition government with Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in charge, throwing a curveball not just to Brexit but to U.S. partnerships on foreign and national security policy.
  • "The president is interested in seeing more leaders like him win elections," Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, tells Axios' Margaret Talev.

The big picture: Among the hurdles between Johnson and a runaway election victory this Thursday are a polarized electorate, his own reputation for dishonesty and Trump.

Behind the scenes: Trump is politically toxic throughout much of the U.K. And Johnson, one of the few European leaders with whom he has genuinely warm relations, was careful not to get too close to Trump during last week's NATO summit in London.

  • Johnson huddled with other heads of state including Justin Trudeau as the Canadian prime minister mocked Trump's rambling press conferences.
  • "Boris kept his distance and was with the gang mocking the president," Nigel Farage — a Trump ally but a Johnson rival as leader of the upstart Brexit Party — tells Lawler via text. "I did not like it."

Yes, but: James Johnson, who ran Downing Street's polling under Theresa May, says focus groups suggest Trump isn't as much of a liability with British voters as he's made out to be. Johnson, the pollster, gives the Conservatives a 75% chance of a parliamentary majority.

The bottom line: Peter Westmacott, former British ambassador to the U.S., tells Lawler that even if Boris Johnson's Brexit deal passes there will be "numerous dramas throughout the course of 2020" as the U.K. negotiates its future trading relationship with the EU, while a U.S.-U.K. trade deal will take "years of hard bargaining."

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