What Boris Johnson's Stunning U.K. Election Win Means for Donald Trump

There is much for President Donald Trump to enjoy in the U.K. election result after his friend Boris Johnson won five more years as prime minister, with the Conservative Party securing a large majority in parliament. True to form, Trump was quick to tweet about the news.

"Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN!" the president posted in the early hours of Friday morning, as it became clear that the Conservatives would win more than 360 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons after a campaign that promised to "get Brexit done."

"Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!"

This is an opportunity for the U.S. and U.K. to move closer economically and Trump has repeatedly offered to expedite a trade deal now Britain is finally on the cusp of leaving the European Union (EU) in January. Trump is no fan of the EU and has long backed Brexit.

Moreover, the result in Britain may also lift Trump's spirit ahead of the 2020 election after Johnson's unashamedly populistic, nationalistic campaign from the pro-Brexit right resoundingly defeated the left-wing Labour Party and its avowedly socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But a strong Conservative majority paradoxically increases the chances of a softer Brexit—which could mean Westminster choosing Brussels over Washington despite Trump's overtures to Johnson.

This is because Johnson is now less beholden to the hard Brexiteer Conservatives in Parliament. They are a relatively small group of lawmakers. But they wielded the power of influence under the last Conservative government because it lacked a consistent majority.

Professor Robert Singh, an expert on U.S. politics at Birkbeck, University of London, told Newsweek that Johnson's robust majority after years of hung parliaments and weakness "finally allows a stable government to plan for five years."

"In theory it makes a U.S. trade deal more likely—but I think that still depends on whether Boris pursues a 'soft' Brexit or not, which isn't clear," he said.

Johnson's current deal, hastily negotiated before the election, removes the U.K. from the EU's customs union, which would allow Westminster to make free trade agreements with others all over the world, regardless of if they have deals with Brussels.

Britain is set to leave the EU in January, when it will enter a transition period, during which time there will be negotiations between Westminster and Brussels on a free trade agreement. It is here that Johnson will have the opportunity to soften Brexit.

The U.K. cannot have frictionless trade with both the U.S. and the E.U. because Washington and Brussels do not have their own agreement after the failure of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks a few years ago.

A leaked U.K. government document, produced by the opposition Labour Party during the election campaign, detailed the talks between British and American trade negotiators on reaching a post-Brexit deal.

According to that document, the U.S. trade representative made clear that if the U.K. committed to the EU customs union and single market then a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement would be "a non-starter."

Currently, Britain is on course to exit the customs union. But it may decide over the coming months that it is in its greater interests to remain in the customs union and maintain fluid trade with the E.U.'s vast internal market, which accounts for around half of the U.K.'s trade.

Either there have to be strict customs checks between the U.K. and E.U.—a trade barrier meaning a harder Brexit—or Westminster must sacrifice the opportunity for freer trade with the U.S. and others for easier access to the European single market.

Johnson is considered a friend by Trump and is probably his closest European ally.

The Conservative is willing to play up the friendship to flatter Trump—a relationship motivated, from Johnson's point of view, by realpolitik—and is more willing than others to pander to the U.S. if it means getting what he wants.

But Johnson has a complex political challenge, which is embodied in the election debate over the National Health Service (NHS), Britain's state-run taxpayer-funded health service that is free to service users, and the post-Brexit trade deal promised by Trump.

The NHS is a major concern for British voters and the Conservatives are often accused of attempting to privatize its services. Labour accused Johnson of trying to sell off the NHS to U.S. corporations in its trade negotiations with Washington.

Johnson denied this and said the NHS would not be part of any deal. Trump has also said he wanted nothing to do with the NHS, walking back on a previous comment that everything would be on the table during trade negotiations, including the health service.

Despite voters' concerns about the NHS, Conservatives won seats off Labour—which is, polling shows, trusted by voters to run the health service—in their traditional heartlands across the north and midlands of England, many of which are strongly pro-Brexit.

Should Trump change his mind on the NHS under pressure from American healthcare interests, it could prove a big test for his relationship with Johnson, and of the prime minister's purported sincerity that the health service is not threatened with privatization under his leadership.

Adding the NHS to trade talks would also bring Johnson's majority, formed of so many ex-Labour seats, into question. The former Labour voters who turned blue this time around will be watching those negotiations, and Trump, closely—as will their new Conservative MPs.

"The northern constituencies now with Tory lawmakers will also hamper a deal that offers access to the NHS," Professor Singh told Newsweek.

Inability to pass a comprehensive U.S.-U.K. trade deal in Parliament could force Westminster back towards Brussels on trade, and therefore mean a softer Brexit. The great pivot to Washington promised by many Brexiteers would be off.

It is not clear how Trump would react to the U.K. snubbing his public offers to expedite a big and lucrative trade deal. The president's febrile Twitter feed suggests he would not take it well.

Beyond the issue of trade and Brexit, the U.K. election result is also an alarm bell for American progressives. There is a debate between those who argue that only a moderate can beat Trump and others who say a radical alternative platform is the path to winning in 2020.

Trump, who is unpopular and facing impeachment, may take some heart in Johnson's victory off the back of a populistic pro-Brexit campaign, heavy on nationalistic sentiment about "believing in Britain," that put his personality front and center.

Former Vice President Joe Biden used Corbyn's staggering loss—the Labour Party's worst performance since 1935, scraping just over 200 seats after campaigning on a manifesto of huge public spending and nationalizations—to deliver a warning.

At a San Francisco fundraiser on Thursday night, Biden noted Labour's move "so, so far to the left" and said people would be shocked that Johnson "who is kind of a physical and emotional clone of the president is able to win," per a pool report of the event.

Johnson also came under heavy fire from his opponents for allegedly lying about the details of his Brexit deal and other underhand tactics, such as bailing on a high-profile and difficult interview slot with BBC presenter Andrew Neil after Corbyn had already done—and been damaged by—his own.

Moreover, Johnson's history of controversial comments—such as describing black Africans as "flag-waving piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles," Muslim women in burqas as "letterboxes," and gay men as "tank-topped bumboys"—were prominent in the campaign.

Yet they, and his threats to use his government's powers against the television networks with which he had disagreements during the campaign, did not damage his chances of winning a majority. Neither did Labour's manifesto pledging to rain money on public services and welfare.

Johnson's campaign was derided as Trumpian by his critics. But he won, and won big, despite a radically progressive opposition promising genuine change.

"At some level, it shows how populism can prove resilient, even though Boris seemed to have had a lackluster campaign," Birkbeck's Singh told Newsweek.

"A lot of his election was more about identity than economics—the U.S. might prove similar again."

Donald Trump Boris Johnson UK election Brexit
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with US President Donald Trump onstage during the annual NATO heads of government summit on December 4, 2019 in Watford, England. Steve Parsons-WPA Pool/Getty Images

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