LONDON — The man who will soon occupy the Oval Office calls himself Mr. Brexit.
He was perhaps the biggest foreign cheerleader for Britain’s departure from the European Union before the country voted, and he celebrated on Scottish soil when it opted to get out.
He says he wants to do a trade deal with Britain, and he invited a British politician to be his first international visitor upon winning the White House.
In many ways, Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election would seem to be a boon for Britain as it prepares to file its divorce papers with the E.U.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s voluble foreign secretary, said as much, calling it “a moment of opportunity.”
But rather than grease Britain’s exit path, Trump’s elevation to the peak of U.S. power could make this country’s already tortuous road to Brexit even rougher.
Reactions such as Johnson’s, said Queen Mary University of London politics professor Tim Bale, are merely “a front” that masks a deep anxiety among British officials over whether Trump can be trusted.
“I think there’s an awful lot of nervousness in government and more generally, mostly down to the unpredictability of the guy,” Bale said.
That worry is being felt worldwide.
But in London, it is especially acute.
Since World War II, Britain has positioned itself as the bridge linking the United States to Europe, with sturdy ties on either side. But now both ends of that connection are looking creaky.
Britain’s June 23 decision to exit the E.U. has set the stage for years of complex — and potentially acrimonious — breakup negotiations in which most of the leverage lies with Europe. The continent’s leaders have taken a hard line in the months since the vote, insisting that Britain will not get the sweetheart deal it has sought.
Brexit advocates have played down any concerns over strained relations with Europe, insisting that Britain outside the E.U. has the chance to reassert itself in the wider world — particularly in the Anglosphere with countries such as Canada, Australia and, most important, the United States.
President Obama delivered a blow to that theory in the spring when he urged Britons to vote against an exit and said the country would need to go “to the back of the queue” in negotiating a free-trade deal with the United States. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took a similar tack.
Trump has adopted a very different approach, insisting that Britain will be prioritized. Johnson noted Monday that Trump is “a dealmaker, and I think that could be a good thing for Britain.”
But Britain may not like the deal that Trump has to offer.
The billionaire real estate developer railed against trade deals during the presidential campaign, insisting that the exchanges are zero-sum and always favor the other side at the expense of the United States. “We have to stop these countries from stealing our companies and our jobs,” he said repeatedly.
Trump has pledged to reverse that dynamic as president and to reduce the U.S. trade deficit. Britain now has a trade surplus with the United States, making it vulnerable to protectionist efforts by Trump to limit British imports at precisely the moment when Britain needs to start selling more to the world beyond Europe.
Eric Kaufman, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, said there is likely to be “an affinity” between Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May because both leaders’ countries have experienced populist revolts against the global order.
But while May on Monday said she wants Britain to be “the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world,” Trump’s threats to tear up existing trade agreements probably would complicate that task.
“The worry would be if the rules-based international trading order is weakened by Trump, that’s not great for Britain trying to champion a free trading order outside of the E.U.,” Kaufman said.
There is also the question of timing: Even if Trump wants to do a quick trade deal with Britain, the latter is not well-positioned because the negotiations to come with the E.U. are already more than it can bear.
A recent memo by a government contractor assessing Britain’s progress in developing its Brexit strategy concluded that the government still lacks an overall plan five months after the vote and that it may need another six months to devise one. The memo, dated Nov. 7 and leaked to the Times of London, also said the government may need another 30,000 civil servants to make Brexit a reality.
Indeed, Britain’s response to Trump — which has been notably warmer than that of other European powers — may be less about any realistic hopes of a deal and more about attempting to gain leverage with Europe.
The response, Bale said, is “consistent with a game we have played for decades where the U.K. suggests to the Europeans we have a unique insight into the American mind, and we suggest to the Americans we are a useful bridge to Europe.”
In at least one sense, that may continue to be true in the Trump era. Trump, whose mother was Scottish and who owns Scottish golf courses, appears to have a genuine affection for Britain.
“The traditional white Anglo world,” said London School of Economics professor Tony Travers, is one that Trump and his backers “see as broadly their kind of world.”
And at least with certain British politicians, the affinity is apparent. Longtime Brexit champion Nigel Farage campaigned for Trump in the United States and was the first foreign politician invited to meet with the president-elect at Trump Tower. When the two emerged after an hour-long meeting, both were grinning broadly.
Britain’s actual leader, May, has not received as favorable a reception. She was the 10th foreign leader Trump spoke with after the U.S. vote. According to a Times of London account of their 10-minute call, he was not exactly insistent in his invitation for her to follow Farage up the elevator to his Trump Tower suite.
“If you travel to the U.S.,” he reportedly said, “you should let me know.”