Realism must trump alarm

stuart thumbnailStuart Nathan
Features editor

Donald Trump can only affect UK engineering and manufacturing in certain ways. Whatever our views on the man himself, we should keep things in perspective


Today’s news headlines are, of course, dominated by the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, and Trumpophobes should probably be prepared to limit their news intake, because he’s probably going to dominate every news site, paper and broadcast for the next few weeks at the very least.

Such is the opprobrium that has surrounded Trump’s campaign, election and every tweet that the tycoon-turned-reality-star-turned-politician has issued over the past year, it’s easy to get carried away with what his ascension to high office might mean. Some perspective is clearly called for.

The United States is the world’s largest economy, and as such has a disproportionate effect on the rest of the world. But that effect is, in fact, limited to a few key areas. As far as the UK is concerned, US politics affects us in two particular ways.

The first is trade, and in this case we are likely to be more affected by the shakeout from Brexit than from the incoming occupant of the Oval Office. We don’t know whether we can take Trump’s comments on this at face value; Boris Johnson, for example, insists that Trump said the UK would be at the front of the queue for a new trade deal, but he seems to have said nothing of the sort in his recent interview with Michael Gove published in The Times. In truth, it’s unlikely to be up to him to a great extent; the negotiations will be carried out by the State Department and the industry secretary, although the president can of course influence the direction of the negotiations.

If Trump is as much of an Anglophile as British supporters claim, his presidency could in fact be good news for British manufacturing. On the more worrying side, the billionaire investor George Soros (who, to be frank, knows as much as anybody) told the Davos world economic forum this week that he believes Trump is gearing up for a trade war with China, which could have detrimental effects for the whole world economy.

The other main area where US politics impacts the UK is defence, and here there might be cause for concern. Trump’s comments about NATO on the campaign trail are worrying for the alliance, and could conceivably have an effect on UK defence policy and therefore on purchasing of equipment. Since the election, Trump has also made disparaging remarks about the F 35 Lightning II fighter, parts of which are manufactured by BAE Systems in the UK, and any changes to this project could have serious effects.

Many of Trump’s other stated policies and the profiles of his advisers might cause concern in the UK; any slackening in US policy on environmental matters concerning control of greenhouse gases would certainly dismay some and the environment, of course, affects everybody. But in terms of day-to-day matters affecting Britons and companies in the engineering and manufacturing sectors, the biggest factor at the moment is not Trump’s long-term policies, but the short-term uncertainty which the election of this unprecedented figure is causing. Like the rest of the world, we can’t make any judgements until he’s actually in office and his staff and team begin to run the country.