A close advisor to Donald Trump who wants to slash environmental regulation and regards Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro as a “like-minded partner” is acting as the go-between the White House and hard-Brexiters at the top of the UK government.
John Bolton, President Trump’s national security advisor and a pro-guns, pro-war advocate, has been cheerleading for the UK to leave the EU, cut red-tape and strike a free trade deal with the US.
The former US ambassador to the UN, who has has long held anti-EU views, has been revealed to regularly speak on the phone with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling — two hard-Brexiters inside Theresa May’s cabinet.
In the US, Bolton is connected to some of President Trump’s biggest financiers. His activities have received millions from billionaire businessman Robert Mercer, the man who bankrolled the Trump campaign, and worked with data firm Cambridge Analytica. He also held a senior fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by fossil fuel magnates the Koch brothers, notorious for backing climate science denial worldwide.
Described by Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper as “possibly Washington’s most aggressive hawk”, Bolton sits at the heart of a transAtlantic network pushing for deregulation post-Brexit to advance US right-wing libertarian interests.
Brexit push for deregulation
Bolton has made no secret of his contempt for the EU and has been publicly calling for a clean cut Brexit which would allow the UK to strike its own free trade deal with the US.
He was pictured with Daniel Hannan, one of Vote Leave’s founders and a senior campaign operative, at the Vote Leave headquarters on the night of the results.
— Daniel Hannan (@DanielJHannan) March 23, 2018
Speaking on Fox News after the referendum result, Bolton said: “Britain can now rid itself of the sclerotic over-regulation of the Brussels bureaucrats. It can reduce its taxes, reduce regulation, be a much more attractive place for foreign investments.”
A month after the EU referendum, Bolton met with the unofficial Leave.EU campaign at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, including Nigel Farage and Andy Wigmore, a businessman and prominent associate of Farage and Arron Banks, the campaign’s main funder.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) July 21, 2016
In July, Bolton met with members of the European Research Group in London and disclosed that President Trump was keen to do a trade deal with the UK as quickly as possible.
Our unique relationship with the UK impels us to stand at Britain’s side as it extricates itself from the morass of EU regulations. #Brexit
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) June 27, 2016
The group’s most prominent supporters including Jacob Rees-Mogg, former Brexit secretary David Davis, Steve Baker and Boris Johnson all backed the launch of an alternative Brexit plan, which called for the UK to realign its regulatory framework, particularly by cutting environmental protection, to strike free trade deals with the US, China and India.
If these hard-Brexiteers have their way, US products which currently do not meet the EU’s regulatory food and environmental standards — such as hormone-fed beef and chlorine-washed chickens — could enter the UK market.
American agri-businesses recently responded en masse to a consultation by US government’s trade agency demanding food standards be lowered post-Brexit. Some of the responses included dropping safety threshold for pesticides, abandoning existing risk process regarding biotech, getting rid of traceability and and colour warning labelling and removing safety restrictions on beef, pork and poultry.
As two global commercial powers – both believers in open markets and competition – the UK & US can show how free trade is done right.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) April 3, 2017
Threat to the environment
Bolton’s endorsement of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who appointed a foreign minister who believes climate change is a “Marxist plot” to stifle western economies and wants to open up the Amazon to miners, farmers and construction companies, highlights the thin line between deregulation and the rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change.
Enjoyed a wide-ranging, very productive discussion w/ Brazil’s President-elect Bolsonaro & his national security team. I extended an invitation from Pres. Trump for @JairBolsonaro to visit the US. We look forward to a dynamic partnership w/ Brazil. pic.twitter.com/KrGF7mYDaA
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) November 29, 2018
Until he took his post as a Trump advisor, Bolton was a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the most influential right-wing think tanks in the US that has consistently opposed environmental regulation and spread disinformation about climate change.
Bolton has also been a long-time critic of international efforts to reduce emissions and tackle climate change, accusing the UN climate talks of using global warming as an excuse to establish supranational structures of governance.
Speaking to Fox News, Bolton hailed President Trump’s intention to withdraw the US form the Paris Agreement “an excellent decision”.
“The [Paris Agreement] overall objective is more international governance and less national sovereignty,” he said, adding: “We could be dealing with global cooling here […] and these people would be asking for the same [international] structures”.
“We are not going to engage in more blue smoke and mirrors in order to get to more international control,” he said.
Big Data and Big Money
Besides his ideological push for a populist low-tax and low-regulation society, Bolton has used data harvesting and micro-targeting to achieve his political ends. This has led him to work closely with Robert Mercer and Cambridge Analytica.
In 2015-16 — in the final stages of the US election campaign — John Bolton’s Super PAC (political action committee) received $3 milllion from Mercer through his hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, according to OpenSecrets data. Between October and December 2017 alone, Mercer gave an additional $1million to Bolton’s Super PAC.
Bolton’s Super PAC was set up to support right-wing Republicans running for election.
Documents provided by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and released by the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee also reveal how both SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, and Aggregate IQ, the Canadian digital marketing outfit used by the Vote Leave campaign, worked for Bolton during the US 2014 mid-term election.
In one email exchange between the SCL Group, Bolton is described as “a very important client”.
The Super PAC suspended all its political activities when Bolton became a Trump advisor.
In the UK, there remains a host of investigations to establish Aggregate IQ and Cambridge Analytica’s exact role in Vote Leave and Leave.EU’s campaigns.
Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU insit the discussions were preliminary and the company did not carry out work for the Leave campaign. The Met Police is yet to decide whether to launch criminal investigations months after the campaign groups were referred by the Electoral Commission.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY–SA 2.0