Trump victory triggers bad Brexit memories in Europe

Europe awoke on Wednesday morning to find Donald Trump within striking distance of victory in the US presidential election.

EU-Remain supporters protesting against Brexit, or Britain's decision to leave the EU, in London on July 2nd, 2016. The shock decision in the UK has been compared to the surprise win by Donald Trump in the US election on November 11, 2016. The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images
Powered by automated translation

DUBLIN // In a shock result reminiscent of the Brexit referendum in June, Europe awoke on Wednesday morning to find Donald Trump within striking distance of victory in the US presidential election.

Opinion polls leading up to the election had been assured of a win for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. If anything, the widespread confidence that she would triumph was even greater than the misplaced certainty that the United Kingdom would never leave the European Union.

Stock markets bolted downwards on Wednesday as a Trump victory looked increasingly likely. As trading began in Italy, Spain and Germany, key indices in these countries fell between 2 and 3 per cent. In London, the FTSE fell 2 per cent when it opened, before steadying soon after Mr Trump delivered his mellow, uncontroversial victory speech.

Within hours of the speech, Donald Tusk, the chief of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, had invited Mr Trump to visit Europe for a summit “at your earliest convenience”.

“Only by co-operating closely can the EU and the US continue to make a difference when dealing with unprecedented challenges such as Daesh, the threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, climate change and migration,” Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker wrote in a letter. “We should spare no effort to ensure that the ties that bind us remain strong and durable.”

Martin Schulz, the head of Europe’s parliament, was more withering, as he evaluated the US election campaign as one “that will not be remembered as America’s finest”.

“Mr Trump has managed to become the standard-bearer of the angst and fears of millions of Americans. Those concerns must now be addressed with credible policies and proposals,” Mr Schulz said.

For Dubliner Aidan Murphy, who was working in London as a bartender this past summer when the Brexit referendum was held, Mr Trump’s election seems like a reprise of a bad dream.

“You think somehow that people will see what you see, and that they will trust the same experts you trust, and then the vote completely stuns you,” said Mr Murphy, who returned to the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the UK, last month.

“If anything, I thought the choice over Trump was even more obvious,” he said. “He was so transparently a bad candidate. He had no government experience. And it’s difficult to imagine that people looked past his racist and sexist comments, or that they voted for him because his racism and sexism appealed to them.”

Marcel Van Herpen, the director of the Cicero Foundation, a Maastricht-based think tank, called Mr Trump a man of “deep vulgarity”, and expressed concerns for Washington’s relations with Europe during the new president’s tenure.

“Trump considers foreign policy as the result of some kind of business negotiations. It is not,” he said. “Trump is not a man of compromise.”

“A Trump presidency will certainly lead to a tectonic shift in the transatlantic relationship with unpredictable consequences,” he added. “US foreign policy will, therefore, enter uncharted waters under a Trump presidency and destabilise not only the US and Europe, but also America’s allies in Asia.”

Much of the shock over the election result stemmed from the media’s analysis of Mr Trump’s campaign, and their dim assessment of his chances of victory.

As with Brexit, it was likely that experts simply did not understand Mr Trump’s core support base, said Rose Pym, an estate agent in Manchester, a city in the north of England.

Ms Pym voted for the UK to remain in the EU, she said, but she knew people who had voted to leave. “It was like they were not even being heard, and they were frustrated with that,” she said. “They were sick of being portrayed as racists, when what they were really worried about was their jobs and their health services.

“Maybe the same thing happened with Trump and Hillary,” she said. “Maybe, aside from all the racists who wanted him in office, there were also people who thought he would prevent the next presidency from just being business as usual.”


US ELECTION: The National's full coverage

■ Rob Crilly in New York: Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States

■ US election 2016 live: Donald Trump wins

■ Live blog: Business world reaction to Trump victory

■ Opinion: What the first 100 days of Donald Trump will look like

■ In pictures: Election night