Ian Bremmer on Brexit and Trump

Ian Bremmer at the Concordia Summit
President of Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer, speaks onstage at the 2014 Concordia Summit - Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 29, 2014 in New York City. Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Anyone who cares about foreign policy and political science cares about what Ian Bremmer has to say. And he cares about what his followers think as well, as he offers almost daily live videos on his Facebook page where he can have a conversation with hundreds online.

As the president and founder of Eurasia Group, a leading political risk consultancy group, executives, financial managers, diplomats, and heads of state worldwide seek his advice. He is the author of several bestselling books, including Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World (Portfolio, 2015), Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World (Portfolio. 2012), and The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Bremmer is currently traveling through the U.K. and Europe to observe the runup to the EU referendum, and on Monday spoke with Newsweek to offer his insights on how international actors are observing two high profile political events on both sides of the Atlantic: Britain’s vote on whether to leave the EU (or “Brexit”) and Donald Trump clinching the Republican nomination in the U.S.

Two years ago, what chance did you give there being an EU Referendum in the U.K. or Donald Trump becoming the Republican candidate this year?

I would have given Trump’s chances of being the nominee near zero percent. The question of Britain's place in the EU has been ongoing for a long time, so I would have given the chance of a referendum by now around 50 percent. As for the actual result of the referendum, I think the U.K. will remain.

How much does the EU have to lose by the U.K. leaving? How likely do you think it is that Brexit could lead to a domino effect of other EU members exiting the bloc?

While it will weaken the EU, you are more likely to see the U.K. suffer more by leaving. The British economy would take a serious hit from a Brexit, as European countries would impose significant costs and tariffs on the U.K. Despite this, we probably would see a domino effect of at least some additional referenda across the continent—it's become politically very difficult to reject the will of the people to have a direct voice on the matter.

Could a Brexit break up the United Kingdom itself?

Yes, this could put the state of the U.K. itself at risk. Polls taken in Wales and Scotland show a solid base of support for remaining in the EU, unlike the exit support in England. Divisions in the U.K. will only become greater along national lines if Brexit occurs.

How would it affect U.K. immigration? Would Britain have less immigrants entering its borders, as some supporters of Brexit might hope?

Brexit would certainly lead to less U.K. immigration, but not in the way the Leave’s narrative has been implying. It would reduce economic migrants from Eastern European nations like Poland—a consequence of the post-Brexit British economy becoming less attractive.

Would a weakened European Union be to Vladimir Putin’s benefit or detriment?

It would be to his benefit. Putin has a “divide and conquer” strategy, which Brexit would play into. For Putin a weakened EU is a good thing, as he wants to unwind sanctions imposed on Russia, and exert more economic and geopolitical influence over Eastern European nations in what he considers Russia's traditional sphere of influence.

Donald Trump has said that he “supports Brexit” and the U.K. would be “better off “without the EU.” Has his endorsement had any substantial effect on the Leave campaign?

When Obama, the IMF, G20, and other international actors came out against Brexit none of them had a significant impact on British voters. Neither has Trump’s endorsement of Brexit. Most British voters aren't aware of that debate. The campaign on both sides is driven almost solely by internal politics and interests.

Trump has said he wants a tougher stance on ISIS, while calling for global disengagement. Seeing as foreign allies are crucial in the fight against ISIS, how does Trump aim to defeat them if he wants to give less support to America’s allies?

Interestingly, Obama’s foreign policy has already been moving in this direction of disengagement by having foreign allies, particularly in the Middle East, deal more with their own affairs. Trump’s propositions are a populist play. He’s not a foreign policy expert, and he doesn’t have an actual foreign policy ideology. This is mainly an appeal to his base that wants to focus solely on internal American interests.

How have Trump’s comments on Muslims and his proposed “Muslim ban” affected Middle Eastern countries’ perception of the U.S., if at all?

Many countries are very concerned about the election, especially those in the Middle East. There has already been lots of hedging in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and it is now weaker than it has ever been. There is no question that Trump’s rhetoric unnerves our allies, and his anti-Muslim rhetoric would damage the relationship with Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Muslim world even further.

As American citizens reel from the shock of the Orlando attack, could this event and Trump’s hardline response increase support for him in the general American public, or will it mainly increase support in his base?

In the long haul, it’s not that significant. The actual recent boost was for Hillary when she clinched the Democratic nomination. The real factor that will affect Trump’s support going into the general election is how much of a national campaign he’s willing to run. He’s a significant underdog for the presidency as the demographics and other factors are against him. However, as long as the mainstream media keeps covering him incessantly—as we're doing now in this interview—it only helps him in the race.

Trump has promised that by being “tougher” on China, he will reclaim lost jobs in the millions. How feasible are these promises, and how is Beijing looking upon Trump and this election?

So before, the Chinese really didn’t want Clinton to win. However, high level Chinese leaders have told me privately, after observing Trump, that they now want her in the Oval Office. As for Trump’s promises, it’s unlikely he’d be able to pursue them. Economists like Paul Krugman have also called for more tariffs on the China, but there’s zero chance they’ll be enacted.

There has been talk that some Republican delegates are mounting an effort to deny Trump the nomination. Could they really deny him this?

It’s hard to imagine that Republicans would deny Trump the nomination this late in the game, especially as most Republican leaders have come out in support of him.

What do the Brexit and Trump campaigns have in common?

There’s no question that they are both driven by shared factors. These are both strongly anti-establishment and anti-immigration campaigns. If you look at the demographics supporting them in both countries, they're remarkably similar.