It’s the Donald Trump agenda gone international: Fed up with immigration and trade deals that don’t seem to help create jobs, British voters will decide Thursday whether to leave the European Union.
The vote signifies much more than whether Britain exits, though. It’s a crucial chapter in an unfolding worldwide political drama, the rise of a movement throughout Europe and the United States of frustrated workers who see control of their jobs and security slipping away.
They blame what they can’t control, notably immigration and global economic forces.
“What you’re finding is a similar mood (in) lots of countries,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “It’s not just a United States issue.”
Demanding tight new curbs on immigration and tougher trade deals are convenient if simplistic solutions, but they’ve proved to be useful slogans for self-proclaimed populists such as Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Conservative populists have thrived recently in Europe. In France, National Front party leader Marine Le Pen is regarded as a top contender for the presidency next year. She has railed against foreigners as an economic threat – taking jobs from French citizens – and she wants votes on the EU throughout the continent.
Every EU member should be able to have its say in a referendum.
France National Front Leader Marine Le Pen to France’s TF1 television
In Germany, University of Leipzig researchers and others reported last week that 40 percent said Muslims should be barred from coming into the country, double the number who thought that six years ago.
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has gained popularity calling for closing the Netherlands’ borders and leaving the EU.
Austria’s Freedom Party, urging “zero immigration,” won a plurality of votes in the first round of this year’s presidential election, then lost narrowly last month in the runoff.
Trump has been sympathetic to exiting the EU. “I think the migration has been a horrible thing for Europe. A lot of that was pushed by the EU,” he told Fox News last month. Trump leaves Thursday for Scotland on three-day trip built around visits to two golf courses but also likely to include comments on the vote.
Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton thinks Great Britain should remain in the EU.
Trump, whom many of these politicians have praised, has vowed to build a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico, to temporarily restrict the entry of foreign Muslims to the United States and to broker trade deals that help this country.
“Trump’s certainly tapping into the same things we’re seeing in Europe,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington’s Brookings Institution, a research center.
Trump is certainly tapping into the same things we’re seeing in Europe.
Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Brookings Institution
Trump’s triumphs already echo the rise of other populist politicians. “What people feel in Britain is similar to what people feel in the U.S.,” said Marian Tupy, senior political analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, a libertarian research group.
“It doesn’t matter if you elect someone center-left or center-right. People feel nothing changes,” he said.
Trump needs momentum from that constituency. While his nativist message helped propel him to the top of the GOP, it’s unclear how much power it has among the broader electorate.
Trump had a 51-43 edge over Clinton when voters were asked who could best handle the economy in a June 16-19 CNN/ORC poll. Trump was also ahead, 48-45 percent, as the candidate who could best deal with terrorism.
Trump has criticized immigration and trade policy since the day be became a candidate a year ago. Among Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, has won supporters as he rails against trade deals that seem too generous to American allies. Clinton has taken notice, and last fall reversed her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Clinton got higher support on immigration than Trump, 50-45 percent, but Trump scored slightly higher on the issue with independent voters, according to a June 16-19 CNN/ORC poll
As secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, Clinton called the 12-nation deal the “gold standard” of such pacts. But the paperback version of her 2014 book, “Hard Choices,” lacks the passage where she described her efforts to win such support.
The U.S. political mood has tended to mirror Great Britain’s for decades. Conservative Ronald Reagan, for example, was elected president 18 months after conservative Margaret Thatcher took control of the British government.
Charismatic, center-left Tony Blair became prime minister nine months after charismatic, center-left Bill Clinton became president of the United States. Both were followed by leaders who not only lacked their charm but also were widely seen as unable to handle the economic and international crises they endured.
Now comes a mood similar in both countries. The economy is growing, but slowly, and there are no easy answers to controlling domestic terrorism.
Nearly half of those saying they plan to vote for the British exit cited migration as the most pressing reason, according to an Ipsos MORI poll.
“You have tremendous uncertainty,” said Tupy, “so people try to protect themselves by blaming foreigners, both for free trade and immigration.”