Why Washington will worry about Ukip’s rise
By Tom Rogan World Last updated: May 26th, 2014
Today, mid-level US officials will have been studying cables from the American Embassy in London.
The topic? The EU elections and Ukip.
The content of those cables will make uncomfortable reading. Here are three reasons why.
First, the US Government supports greater British integration with the European Union. From the American perspective, Britain plays a very positive role in shaping EU governance. America supports freer trade and is sympathetic to fewer regulations; it believes that Britain counter-balances the regulation-friendly governments of France and Germany.
Moreover, the Obama administration is seeking a new free trade agreement with the European Union. It knows that British support will be crucial in smoothing out existing difficulties. Were Britain to become isolated from the EU, two things would then happen. First, the EU would become less friendly to American trade (weakening US exports). Second, American influence in the EU would decline.
On this second point, alongside the US-UK intelligence/military alliance, Britain’s influence over EU foreign policy is highly prized in Washington. Take the crisis in Ukraine. Without the UK, the Obama administration is aware that the EU would probably acquiesce to Putin’s power grab. Germany, after all, is far more concerned about the preservation of Gazprom energy supplies. Washington’s national security interests in Europe, already jeopardised by the NSA spying leaks, are increasingly vulnerable. Correspondingly, Britain's active role in Europe offers consolidation in a period of difficulty.
But it’s not just the EU question.
Of equal concern in Washington will be what Ukip’s rise portends for next year’s General Election. America knows that Farage has tapped into a deep vein of populist anger; now it will have to consider that Ukip may – just possibly – win enough seats in Parliament to become a coalition partner for a Conservative government. Recognising Farage’s unashamed isolationist sentiments, the US will worry that, were he to enter government as a minority partner, Farage would push Cameron towards a less active British foreign policy.
Last August, Washington was shocked when Cameron failed to secure Parliamentary approval for strikes against Assad. Kerry’s anger had a particularly thin veil. Since then, Washington has become concerned that British sentiment has grown deeply sceptical of American foreign policy. The State Department will believe that Farage provides a new figurehead for this disillusionment. In specific terms, the US will have paid close attention to Farage’s fervent opposition to Cameron's policy in Ukraine, Libya, and Syria.
This trepidation is reinforced by the quietly held US belief that a Prime Minister Ed Miliband would make an unreliable American ally. His opposition to the Syria authorisation vote was viewed as a major rebuke to the US government. Regardless, the Obama Administration has long taken Britain for granted (see the Falklands). In the weeks ahead, as top officials read the cables from London, they might come to realise that political storm clouds loom ahead.