EVENT TRANSCRIPT: An Inside Look at the US Politics and the Special Relationship
DATE: 1 pm, 2 October 2019
VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS, United Kingdom
SPEAKER: Congressman George Holding
EVENT CHAIR: Dr Alan Mendoza
Dr Alan Mendoza: Right. Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us today for our look at trans-Atlantic relations and what’s happening in the US right now, although we could – I’m sure – get caught up in all the latest political discussions here in the UK as well. Now, I’m delighted to introduce Congressman George Holding who is a very frequent visitor to the UK – as he was telling me earlier, he actually married an English lady, he’s got his two children – two children is it?
Congressman George Holding: Four.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Four children; four dual citizens, he’s got good connections. He is of course the Congressman for North Carolina’s Second District in the House of Representatives – but I don’t want you to think he’s just a politician, he had a distinguished law career before he went into Congress; he was US Attorney – did some pretty high profile prosecutions in North Carolina – and he currently sits on the Ways and Means Committee [inaudible] on the budget committee, but he’s also the ranking Republican member of the British-American Parliamentary Group and the Co-Chairman of the Congressional UK Caucus. So, deep ties. He knows what’s happening over here ad he is here to discuss both that and – of course – what’s happening over in the US. So, please give our guest a very very warm welcome.
Congressman George Holding: Thank you. Excellent. Are you turning it over to me?
Dr Alan Mendoza: I’m turning it over to you.
Congressman George Holding: You want me to [inaudible] here?
Dr Alan Mendoza: There or there, wherever you prefer yes.
Congressman George Holding: Why don’t I stand up?
Dr Alan Mendoza: Stand. Use the lectern there [inaudible]. Opine from there.
Congressman George Holding: I had this wonderful professor in law school, I was terrified of her. Her name was Roda Billings and she was former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and she made us stand up in class whenever we had to answer a question. So, ever since then I’ve thought that it’s much better to stand up when you’re talking, you think better when you’re standing up. But it’s a real pleasure to be here. Look at this wonderful sunshine I brought you from North Carolina. There’s a very nice little nip in the air, good for walking. I was out for a nice brisk walk this morning. So, it could not be finer. This is my first visit to the Henry Jackson Society. It’s an honour to be here, thank you for your warm hospitality. It’s a pleasure also, to be in the UK because the political waters are nice and calm and predictable here, much different from back at home. I was going to go up to the Tory Party conference over the weekend but my plans were kind of unstable at the weekend and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get over here in time so, I didn’t make the trip up. But, it’s been interesting to read all the missives, and I look forward this afternoon to reading about the Prime Minister’s speech and seeing the details there. I want to start out with the Special Relationship – a term which is, kind of, amorphous out there, but I can tell you that I live the Special Relationship every day in my house; my wife is from Lincolnshire and my children – my daughters are 19, 18 and 16 and my son is 9, and he wants to join the British army, without doubt. I gave him my full collection of soldiers that I started collecting when I was a little little fella. My sister went to Cambridge and when she would come home she would always bring me a new set of soldiers and my 9-year-old son thinks that the uniforms are much smarter over here than the uniforms we have at home. He’s very excited, when he turns 10 – which will be next year – he has an invitation to come and spend the night in the Tower of London. The current constable is good friends of mine – Nick Horton – and he has kindly extended that invitation and my son is just over the moon about it. Last time I was at the Tower of London the Gurkhas were in charge of the Key Ceremony and they did a superb job. On that, I was in India last month for the Independence Day. I went to the Red Fort to see the Prime Minister’s speech and they had all the military parade out there; you had the army, you had the air force, you had the navy and then you had a whole regiment of Ghurkhas out there, and during the several hours of ceremony while they were all – you know – at attention, the only part of that where they didn’t have someone fall out during the ceremony were the Ghurkhas. So that was quite impressive.
But, the Special Relationship is alive and well in Washington. We both have our trials and tribulations on the political front, but he Special Relationship is something that transcends personalities and politics. I was here for St George’s Day and gave some remarks over in the Speaker’s chambers and the Speaker was there. Unfortunately, he left right before my remarks because my remarks all hinged on the Special Relationship transcending personalities and politics and, if you recall, this was before the President’s visit when the Speaker had said that he would not be extending an invitation to the President to address the House of Commons. So, unfortunately the Speaker didn’t my comments but that was the gist of them, maybe someone reported them on, I don’t know. Even though the Special Relationship is alive and well both of our countries are going through some travails, to say the least. But, I think it provides a great deal of opportunity for both of our countries because if you look at what the Special Relationship is based upon, it’s not only a common language, it’s not only a common origin of the laws we have, common religious origins as well, cultural origins, but now we are also bound by being really the only two countries left in the West that are wholeheartedly capitalist and entrepreneurial. So as the possibilities of a trade agreement being on the horizon; capitalism and entrepreneurialism are two things that bind us even closer together and give us even more of an impetus for a successful trade arrangement between our two countries. In a lot of respects, we’ve been frictionless for a long time. I can’t really think of any big trade disputes that the United States and the United Kingdom have had that need to be resolved in a trade agreement. But our agreement also gives us the opportunity to – kind of – define the Special Relationship. We talk about it all the time but there’s no written definition of it, definition out there, but a trade agreement could very much be the vehicle where we kind of codify what our Special Relationship is.
When I talk about trade, I often talk about financial services – it’s something that that our two countries both excel in. If you look at all the big financial services players in the United States yheir number 2 office will be in London and then visa versa. The trick question that I always ask my folks back at home – you all will automatically get this – but when you think about London being the largest financial services centre in the EU, ask yourselves ‘what is the second largest financial services centre in the EU?’. Anybody want to take a guess?
Audience Member 1: Frankfurt?
Congressman George Holding: No.
Audience Member 2: Paris?
Congressman George Holding: No.
Audience Member 3: Amsterdam?
Congressman George Holding: No.
Audience Member 4: Madrid?
Congressman George Holding: No.
Audience Member 5: New York?
Congressman George Holding: No – I mean, that’s not in the EU.
Audience Member 6: You know something we don’t?
Congressman George Holding: It’s Edinburgh. Isn’t that amazing? You think of all the big insurance companies up there and the big money managers up there. I’m not sure exactly how its calculated; assets under management or people employed. Liam Fox gave me that little titbit so it has to be true right?
Congressman George Holding: When you think about that, when you think about how important London is as a financial services centre – I’ll tell you a little anecdote. I was doing a round-table last year at Goldman Sachs, here in London, and they brought in – it was also with the then-Majority Leader in the House so that’s why all these people came, not just for me. But, the head of Goldman Sachs International said that ‘we have 3400 employees in London – in and around London, UK. We have 400 employees in the EU 27. If there is a hard Brexit with no passporting of banking facility we’ll hire another 200 in the EU and capitalise a financial institution but all these other people stay here’ because to do what they do, they have to rely on the London capital markets. You know, there are only two big capital markets in the World and that’s the United States and London. So, If you’re one of the few entrepreneurs that isn’t in the UK or the US and you want to raise capital, you have to come to one of these two centres to do it. Europe has very well developed banking systems but not capita markets where people can do initial public offerings, get adventure capital, and so forth. So, in a trade agreement we can make our two financial systems more seamless and frictionless – we really get to dictate terms to the rest of the World because we command all the capital markets which are incredibly important to making the World go round when it comes to money. London’s predominance in this, certainly it predates the Special Relationship, it predates the EU, it’s something that’s endured for hundreds and hundreds of years and I think will continue to endure and is something that will bring us ever closer together.
So, I have very high hopes for a trade agreement – of course, it all depends on the terms on which you exit the EU and what portfolio of things you have to negotiate subject to those terms. The timing of it – I’ve spoken with the President and people in our administration. Our current trade ambassador is Bob Lighthizer – who’s a complete Anglophile by the way, he loves it over here. They’ve got a series of working groups who have been working hard for 2 years now, over 2 years perhaps, and they’ve met 6 times formally, and they’ve scoped out you know, a lot of the prospects and the parameters of this, you know, nothing is public, but I believe they’ve made enough progress that you, know, once the exit terms are complete that they can quickly move those into a formal trade agreement. And the way trade agreements work in the United States is, under our constitution the authority over trade is given to the Congress, but what we soon realised in our history, that to have 435 members of Congress try to negotiate trade agreements is a little squirrely, so we delegate the authority to the Executive to negotiate the trade agreement, and we do it under an act called Trade Promotion Authority, and we give a series of parameters to the Executive, this is what we the Congress want to see in our trade agreement, and the Executive negotiates pursuant of those parameters, and throughout the process they have to consult with Congress, give regular updates publicly in hearing format, and privately as needed. And then, ultimately, once that trade agreement is concluded by the Executive, it comes back to Congress and has to pass by a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate. In recent history, last several decades, sometimes those trade agreements can be negotiated by the Executive and then take years to pass the Congress, they’ll just sit in a [inaudible]. I don’t think that’s going to happen here, the trade agreement for the United States and the United Kingdom has brought bi-partisan support in both Houses of Congress, it’s not a partisan issue, might be one of the few non-partisan issues we deal with. And Brexit is not really a partisan issue, it doesn’t, people who are for or against it, it doesn’t cut across party lines like so many other issues that we deal with. So that great prospects, hopes, that perhaps our trade agreement could be executed by the end of next year, if things move apace, so those are all very positive outlooks for the special relationship.
Our politics, of course, are complicated, they’re always complicated, think what you see happening over in our part of the world is base-politics at its very best or worst. And it’s base in a lot of different ways, it’s base in [that] the parties are playing to their bases, and it’s base in the nature of the discourse as well, and it’s just something that we’re going through, but I’d like to compartmentalise, and I think a lot of people can compartmentalise a trade agreement, special relationship separate and apart from what’s going on in political debate and discourse out there. Obviously, impeachment and so forth will take a lot of air out of the room, but the last time we went through this, I was a staff member in the Senate at the time, I was a lawyer for a senator, and the administration was able to compartmentalise what was going on in the impeachment process, separate and apart from the legislative process, and legislation still moved apace, [inaudible] through all that you’d have these very kind of bizarre scenes where, you know, impeachment is going on in the House or later the trial in the Senate, but then you would have bi-partisan groups of House members and Senators at the White House, in the Rose Garden for a bill signing ceremony. So we’ll see if that can be compartmentalised and move similarly through this process. We have hopes, we have hopes. But that’s kind of an overview, and I want to allow plenty of time for question and answer, I can touch on just about anything. Was that appropriate, is this the..
Dr Alan Mendoza: Very appropriate, very appropriate. I think it’s familiar to you from the House, that you want to touch upon literally anything which is great. So alright, thank you Congressman, that’s been a very helpful overview of where we’re on, I’ve [inaudible] been struck by your hopefulness as to the speed of a potential trade agreement in particular, because that is a constant question here, but I can see already loads of hands up, so I’ll come back with some questions once we’ve gone through. Let’s start in the front row, lady here,
Congressman George Holding: Yes, how are you?
Dr Alan Mendoza: give me your name and your, any organisation if you are, but just name is fine.
Audience Member 7: Carol Shaw, but no organisation. Recently my husband and I, who’s sitting there, we went on a tour of the east coast of the US.
Congressman George Holding: Excellent, did you come to North Carolina?
Audience Member 7: We did, yes we [inaudible]
Congressman George Holding: Oh, very good, very good.
Audience Member 8: We’ve got family there.
Congressman George Holding: That’s God’s country.
Audience Member 7: And we went to Washington, and had a tour around the capital.
Congressman George Holding: Sorry about that.
Audience Member 7: In the White House, but..
Congressman George Holding: You should’ve called me.
Audience Member 7: I should’ve done, anyway, so I asked everybody the same question, it’s partly a joke but it’s also serious.
Congressman George Holding: I like jokes.
Audience Member 7: Good, good, good, ’cause I do comedy, but..
Audience Member 7: the question was, if George III had given you a little bit more representation and a little less taxation, do you think you would still be British?
Congressman George Holding: I don’t know, I don’t know.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Well that’s, it’s one of the biggest questions of time you’ve just thrown at the Congressman.
Congressman George Holding: You never know. It could be so, it could be so, but the, you know, the question is now, today, are we more aligned with the British today than we were in 1800, or 1815, and I would say yes, I think our interests have kind of come full circle, going from being adversaries to kind of partners in the world, so perhaps George III, is he smiling now, or is he upset with what’s going on.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Who knows, we shan’t answer that. Yes?
Audience Member 9: Edward Ben Nathan, no affiliation. Congressman, my question really relates now to the relevance of the special relationship to the developing geo-political issues with China. What are your views on that?
Congressman George Holding: Well, I firmly believe that China is a partner and an adversary at the same time. If you go and speak with our generals and admirals who are in the Pacific Command, they will tell you that the most likely place for a shooting war to break out in the world is the South China Sea or the East China Sea because you have two great powers operating side-by-side in a very adversarial way. And as far as the special relationship is concerned, it’s interesting, you know, our great partner there is India; that, in fact, we renamed Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command because we were such great partners with the Indians, and our navy would tell you that the Indian navy is more British than the British navy, that in fact I last month had dinner aboard a frigate and their [inaudible], and I can tell you it was pretty squared away. I was very very impressed, so, vis-a-vis China, you know, we need to be partners in this, if we’re going to be unified on the military front, which we’ve solidly unified post World War Two, China is an adversary there. I think the only way to, in a civilised world, to overcome that is to have enough strength and force that no-one takes anybody on. We can do that better together, you know, with our other partners, like India, than we can alone.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Can I just pick up on something you’ve said there, I’ll just break in. You speak about our military might, our military capability. What is your perception of the state of the British Armed Forces right now, particularly compared to that historic [inaudible] you’ve just given, and where would you like to see the strength of Britain’s Armed Forces go forwards?
Congressman George Holding: Sure, well, again, this is something, you know, if we kind of codify the special relationship in a trade agreement, perhaps we can move to not codify, but better align our armed forces. You know, if we have the best alignment possible, the United Kingdom could focus their resources on elements that merge even better with our resources. I mean, let’s talk about the sensitive subject of air-craft carrier battle-groups. The United States has 11, and our theory is, to have 3 or 4 deployed you’ve got to have about 11 to do it because you always got one segment of them who are in dock, under renovations, you got another segment of them who are either decommissioning or recommissioning, and then you’ve got another segment that are deployed and ready to go. And you’re going to have 2 air-craft carrier battle-groups, but, you know, if we had a more seamless military relation, you know, maybe it would be better to have frigates and submarine-chasers. You look at what’s going on in the Atlantic, and Russian submarines in the Atlantic are a big force now, they’ve kinda cracked up on us, and all of a sudden it’s, instead of carrier battle-groups, there’s other types of naval assets that might be useful, more useful in defending against [inaudible]. You know, the British are great on intelligence, our intelligence services think that you are the best, and special forces, you know, my district [inaudible] incorporate Fort Bragg, where most of our special forces are based. When I was the United States Attorney that was part of my jurisdiction, you know, if you went and interviewed our special forces down there, and say ‘Who do you want to train with? Who can you learn from?’, it’s always going to be the British, number one. So, you know, again, a more comprehensive, thorough alignment would allow us to array our resources in a such a way that compliment each other and don’t duplicate each other.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Very good, right, yes, over here.
Audience Member 10: Peter Wilson Smith from Meritos Consultants. Like you, I have 2 dual-national children.
Congressman George Holding: Excellent!
Audience Member 10: Strong connections. An observation, if I may, and a question. The observation: you mentioned financial services [inaudible] trade agreement. Now, I’ve been dealing with financial services in different capacities for several decades, I’ve never heard anyone in the industry on either side of the Atlantic say ‘we need a trade agreement’ because we have [inaudible] free access, so I’m sort of slightly sceptical of [inaudible], I’m sure a trade agreement will be great, but that it’s gonna make, really, much difference to financial services. My question, though, is about regulation in the digital sphere. The world seems to be sort of breaking up into 3 groups, we’ve got the sort of European approach with GDPR, we’ve got the US approach which is slightly different, we’ve got the Chinese approach which is no regulation at all with access to everything. We don’t quite know where the UK depending on Brexit is going to end up on that, but this is, you know, hugely important [inaudible], not just to technology industries, but to every industry because of the data. And I wondered, how do you think that is going to play out, and what are the consequences of that sort of global fragmentation?
Congressman George Holding: So, that’s an excellent question. In regards to the first test that’s going out now, is the taxation, the digital tax. You know, the negotiation is between the United States and the OECD on, and you know, France is in there, as to how our digital services are going to be taxed. So that’s the test that’s going on, controversy in a test that’s going on right now, but I would say that, you know, if the United States and the United Kingdom can work ideal together and solve that issue together, it kind of sets the standard for the rest of the world. I mean, that’s another part about our trade agreement, [inaudible] the harmonisation of financial services, and I agree, no-one’s beating down the door and saying ‘oh my gosh, we can’t, you know, our financial services are crippled because we lack a trade agreement’, I mean there are certain instances regards to capital allocations in insurance companies and so forth that we could smooth out, and you know, capital allocations for banks, so forth, you know, capital reserves and so forth that then we could smooth out between the two of us, and I think once we do that, that sets the standard for the world. I think the same is for our digital services and some regulation in the digital industry which is, you know, growing faster than anything. And that’s why I think the opportunities are so great ’cause you and I have such closely aligned values, you know, across the spectrum, and you and I bound by a trade agreement that could incorporate, obviously, digital services, would be something pretty powerful to the rest of the world.
Dr Alan Mendoza: In the corner there. We’ll take [inaudible], so I’m going to go round and come back out.
Audience Member 11: My father was a Tar Heel, came over
Congressman George Holding: Excellent!
Audience Member 11: Drafted here.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Do you have a name, sir?
Congressman George Holding: Where was he from?
Audience Member 11: Burlington.
Congressman George Holding: Burlington! Just up the road from the
Dr Alan Mendoza: Could you just give your name, just for..
Audience Member 11: Andrew Brooks. Ex Royal Air Force. So yea, they all come over in droves to help out, unashamedly.
Congressman George Holding: What was the saying, over-payed, over-sexed and over here?
Audience Member 11: Yea
Audience Member 11: What energy he had left he then went off to D-Day after conceiving me, but that’s a different [inaudible].
Dr Alan Mendoza: Okay, we’re getting a little personal here.
Congressman George Holding: I’d say good job.
Audience Member 11: What worries me, and lot of other people, is that the Americans understandably are getting really miffed about Europe not pulling its weight defence-wise. The Germans are free-loaders, the French are posers; there’s a lot of people who just literally sponge off the back of Uncle Sam, and they’ve done it for 70 years. Are you ever worried that eventually the American might [inaudible] say ‘no, actually I’m going to spend in isolation again’, but will actually pull the draw-bridge, pull the rug out of NATO whenever, just out of sheer frustration that fact they’re carrying this burden.
Congressman George Holding: So, I think the commitment to NATO throughout the government, top to bottom, is solid. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is here, in London, next week, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. It has been a source consternation, the payments and the contributions, you know, if you talk to the Germans, you know, they would point to, you know, a lot of other things they had spent money on to support NATO, whether it be infrastructure or so forth, but from across all NATO countries, all our ambassadors, all US ambassadors to NATO countries, their number 1 priority, or certainly one of their top priorities, has been to encourage to increase contribution, you know, getting to the required levels. And all of them are reporting pretty good success. Everybody in there, seems like most all countries have a plan to get there, so I think the hue and cry of not doing your part, not contributing enough has been moderated by a lot of the increased payments and certainly plans being put in place to allocate more of the budget to a communal defence.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Okay, yes?
Audience Member 12: Thank you very much Congressman. [Inaudible] Grant, former law enforcement intelligence analyst who’s covered the ex-Soviet Union. I’ve walked a lot of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War battlefields
Congressman George Holding: Excellent!
Audience Member 12: I’m afraid I haven’t walked to Kings Mountain, sorry.
Congressman George Holding: It’s alright.
Audience Member 12: My question really follows on from the gentleman’s and your answer, and not for the first time, Edward Ben Nathan earlier, about China. You mention NATO. After Brexit, whenever that is, right, is the US together with Britain, both jointly and separately, going to take a serious look at dealing with what I think is a very major problem, which is the growth of communal European legislation and influence, because I have seen first hand, working in Ukraine, on a European Commission project, how much easier it was to work with the FBI people at the American Embassy, and how difficult were the EU delegation, to whom I was nominally working. There is, I think, in civilian Brussels, NATO doesn’t talk to EU Brussels much because EU Brussels doesn’t talk to them very well. I think there’s a very real problem here, that there is a quasi-pacifist lack of strategic literacy in the central European institutions and academia funded by it, which is one reason why we need the Henry Jackson Society.
Congressman George Holding: Well, to your point, the more bureaucracy you have, the more cooks in the kitchen that you have, often the less efficient pro-active response you can come up with ’cause you’ve got to talk to too many people. And again, I think it’s why the United States and the United Kingdom coming together in as seamless a fashion as possible sets the standard world-wide. I’ve had the opportunity to be in Brussels a number of times, we have something called the Trans-Atlantic Dialogue, which are members of Congress who dialogue with members of the European Parliament back and forth. I’ve gone on a number of those delegations, and listening to members of the European Parliament, you know, I can sense frustration from many of them as to the inability of working things through the process in Brussels. I remember when I first came to Congress, I think in the first year I was in Brussels, and learned kind of the process in the European Parliament, where members of the European Parliament cannot introduce legislation, they can only amend legislation, [inaudible] the Commission, it’s just so alien to the legislative body that I’m in where you know, a constituent brings something to you one day and says ‘you know, I think this is a problem’, and you agree with him, well, and there, you write a bill, you put it in the hopper, and all of a sudden you can work it and start getting it debated. So, again, the similarities and parallels between the United States are great; join them together and I think it’ll be an excellent [inaudible] to the world.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Okay, second row, I’ll come back to you, second row, and I’ll go to the back, yea?
Audience Member 13: Hi, [inaudible]. You talked a lot about, you talked a lot optimistically about a free trade agreement. We have heard from this side of the Atlantic about, if we leave Europe without a deal, we potentially have a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we heard a lot about, if that happens, Irish-American Congressmen will oppose some form of free trade agreement between the UK and the US. What would you think, would they?
Congressman George Holding: So, you know, first of all, I don’t think that the ultimate outcome of Brexit will yield a hard border in Northern Ireland. Secondly, you know, to your point, The Good Friday Agreement is very important to the Irish-American community which there are lots, and there are, you know, many members of Congress which have large Irish-American constituencies, and all politics is local, you’ve got 435 members of a House and 100 Senators in the House, each of us represent about 850 000 people, and we’re answerable to our constituency. I cannot imagine the UK coming up with a Brexit solution that destroyed The Good Friday Agreement, and I think what you heard from members of Congress such as Speaker Pelosi and Richie Neil from Massachusetts, he’s the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ways and Means within our jurisdiction is trade, we’re the trade committee, and I think they were sending a clear signal that The Good Friday Agreement is important to their constituents and though they’re looking at whatever agreement is made and looking to ensure The Good Friday Agreement is not violated. That would cause political consternation in the United States, but I just don’t foresee that happening, you know, I’m an outsider observing your politics, but I just can’t imagine that happening.
Audience Member 13: Thank you.
Dr Alan Mendoza: All the way to the back. You may want to stand up for a moment just so we can see you.
Audience Member 14: [Inaudible] My name is Frank [Inaudible], and I’m an independent consultant. Given that the Democratic Party seems hell-bent on ultra-progressive agenda, to say the least, and that there doesn’t seem to be any viable alternative candidate from [inaudible] side to replace President Trump, do you really think that there’s much scope for non-partisan politics [inaudible] the next 5 or 6 years?
Congressman George Holding: Listen, all politics is partisan. I’ve been working, I’ve been in and out of Washington since 1989, and I don’t know when the good old days were, but they certainly [laughter], certainly haven’t been post-1989. You know, in partisanship we have become even more partisan, I mean, I’ll grant you that. I worked for a very conservative senator, but he, you know, would argue like hell for his principles, but then at the end of the day they would make a compromise. And if he got, you know, more than half a loaf, he was really happy, if he got less than half a loaf, he’d say ‘well, we got what we got, but let’s fight, you know, another day’. And so, that has diminished, but it’s diminishing all around the world. Not to get way off topic here, but if someone had described to me, 30 years ago, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you know, I would’ve thought to myself ‘that’s going to be great, it’s going to be great ’cause you’re going to be able to learn, meet people from all around the world, you know, learn about different cultures, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be very broadening’. And I remember the first kind of internet I dealt with was when I was at university. I was a Latin and Greek major, and they came up with an online system to do translations and to communicate with other classics’ scholars around the world, it was called The Icarus Programme and it kind of, you know, it predated e-mail and it was really fascinating, I thought: this is great ’cause here I am, you know, being able to converse with somebody at Oxford. I thought that was really cool, but what has happened with social media, it’s actually siloed people, instead of broadening you, you know, your social media feeds, you self-select, you know, what you want to hear and who you want to talk to, so put you in a hardened silo. You’re only getting information that reinforces things that you already believe, and that, that feeds partisan politics. It hardens the bases, you know, of each party, and, you know, the 30% of the left, you know, are firmly hard, 30% of the right – same, then the folks in the middle, you know, don’t really pay attention until it gets a lot closer to election day, so you couple that social media, and then in the States you couple all the political advertising, I mean, we spent, you know, in a presidential cycle it’ll be over a billion dollars. In my 2 year race I think I spent 6 million, 6 million dollars was spent on my behalf the last race, and it may be 10 millions this time. I mean it’s just a lot of TV advertising, and in 30 seconds, you know, what you say in a television advertisement is not a subtle, calm message, you know, it’s a partisan message, and, you know, is that good for politics, is it good for public discourse? Probably not, but it’s the system that we have.
Dr Alan Mendoza: This is true. There, and then there. Yea?
Audience Member 15: [Inaudible] We have a prospect of having Jeremy Corbyn as a prime minister. Do you agree Jeremy Corbyn is a leader America never could work with and would probably cause irreparable damage to our country and the relationship between our two countries? And do you think it’s wrong of British politicians across the spectrum not to respect the referendum result?
Congressman George Holding: Well, as I started out, the special relationship, the bonds between our two countries transcends personalities and politics. You know, if you look back through history, you know, we have had administrations, political leaders that weren’t well-liked here, and vice versa, but the special relationship endures. So, it’s just like with Brexit. So, when the referendum was going on, you know, I didn’t take any position on whether it was good or bad, and, in fact, I admonished our then-President Obama, a number of us did, in a letter that was pretty well publicised, that, you know, he shouldn’t have gotten involved [inaudible]. Now, my wife who’s, as I mentioned, from Lincolnshire, was full-on ‘leave’, from the absolute get-go. So, I did have that at home, but in a professional capacity, you know, I take no position, and I would take no position on, you know, an election here, or who’s going to be the prime minister here because I look forward to working with whomever is selected. You know, we have to respect each other’s political process. I think that’s key, and that’s kind of a unique element to the special relationship in and of itself, that it transcends, it transcends these politics, the ebbs and flows, and vicissitudes of partisan politics.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Yes, over here.
Audience Member 16: John Bender, I’m Chairman of [inaudible], stands for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK. We advocate for deeper ties with those 4 countries, basically the principle Commonwealth realms. And what we’ve seen is, there is strong interest in all those countries for deepened ties, it already prevails in security, Five Eyes Agreement, we’re looking, of course, at trade, I spoke to the Prime Minister recently, and he thinks it’s a wonderful idea, but, of course, we have to get through Brexit first..
Congressman George Holding: Right.
Audience Member 16: ..before we make any progress. The question is, the interest is very much in creating a multilateral trade deal between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Given the President’s, we might call it weariness vis-a-vis multilateral deals,he seems to prefer bilateral agreements, do you think current administration would countenance a multilateral trade agreement to mirror the Five Eyes for the Anglo-sphere?
Congressman George Holding: True, absolutely. So, during the campaign, the last presidential campaign, you know, a big issue was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was going to be a trade deal, can’t remember how many it was there, 11 countries to start with, something like that, and you had countries that would be clearly unequally [inaudible]. I’ve been to Vietnam, it’s a fascinating country. I learned how to, like, cross the street in Vietnam, which is, don’t stop walking. The traffic’s all coming at you, it’s not going to stop, ever, but walk with purpose. Don’t slow down, don’t speed up, and they’ll just go around you. [laughter] But, to look at a trade deal with Vietnam, you know, it’s a communist country, they have state-owned enterprises there, you know, very difficult to have them in a multilateral trade agreement. And I think that spurred some of the President’s dislike of multilateral agreements, but when you take countries, I mean, you take the Five Eyes countries and look at the synergies there, you know, I could certainly see, you know, a trade agreement coming to fruition, incorporating those countries. I think that what you would see right out of the box post-Brexit, is a US-UK trade agreement, and then you may see other Five Eyes countries join into that trade agreement.
Audience Member 16: Thank you.
Audience Member 17: Thanks. [Inaudible], I’m an investment banker here, hosted a dinner for you..
Congressman George Holding: Yes! Good to see you.
Audience Member 17: [inaudible], good to see you again. You mentioned China earlier and the military challenges, political challenges. What about the economic challenges, I do a lot of business in Africa, in Eastern Europe, you know, and I see, facing the Chinese, to a lesser degree the Russians, on just about every commercial transaction [inaudible]. What’s the sentiment in Washington right now, to be proactive in terms of getting capital into those regions, in terms of defending against the Chinese footprint [inaudible]?
Congressman George Holding: Right, right, that’s a great question. You know, there’s a great deal of alarm at the investment that China’s making around the world. You go to Africa which has tremendous resources, potential. I was recently in Botswana, incredible country, and the Chinese are everywhere, making huge investments, and it’s not altruistic. You know, it is all done with a purpose, and it’s happening around the world, I was in Sri Lanka 2 years ago; the port there the Chinese had built, and Sri Lankans couldn’t make the payments, and it’s, the Chinese wanted to just take it over, and that port, you know, the US has a naval presence there, you know, it’s very concerning for China to control those straits between Sri Lanka and India. So, the problem, you know, whether it be in Africa, South America, whether it be Hong Kong, you know, the Exchange, buying the London Stock Exchange, and then all of a sudden, you know, the Chinese having, you know, access to all the data from the largest clearing agency in Europe, which is part of the London Stock Exchange. You see these investments, and there’s a strategic, you know, nature to all of them. But you can’t stop it, you can’t go to Africa and talk to Nigeria and say ‘You know, stop taking the Chinese money to build your infrastructure’, you know, unless you’ve got some viable alternatives. In Congress we passed a number of acts which, you know, should address this, but have not, you’ve got AGOA which is the African Growth Opportunity Act, you’ve got the Empower Africa Act which was to bring, you know, greater power generation to Africa, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have private capital to do this, and heretofore, finding private capital that will go to Africa and make large commitments is really difficult. You know, it’s not come to fruition, regardless of whatever incentive or encouragement that’s come from governmental actors. So, easy to see the problem, but the solution is not..
Audience Member 17: I think the private capital sentiment here is better, but, I think, one of our jobs is, and I say ours not only from a business, but as an American, is to get private capital, American private capital, into the region [inaudible].
Congressman George Holding: Right.
Audience Member 17: You know, again, I think the UK is ahead of the curve a little bit, but we need to get there.
Congressman George Holding: Right, right, I agree, I agree.
Audience Member 17: Thank you.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Okay, we’ve got one, two, let me take you both together actually, we’re running out of time, and then [inaudible] Right. Why don’t you start, and then we’ll do two together, yea.
Audience Member 18: [Inaudible], a banker, but here in a personal capacity with the Pilgrim Society. I was going to have a question..
Congressman George Holding: Great! You’ve got your time.
Audience Member 18: I’ve got my time too. I was going to ask a question about the [inaudible], but I think, just given your earlier comment, I just can’t resist asking, what do you think a tweet from President Trump might say during the UK elections about what the UK population should do?
Dr Alan Mendoza: Well, hold that for a second and take the lady here. Yes.
Audience Member 19: Hi, Elena Cohen, Parliamentary staff. I work for a shadow minister, in a party, we may or may not be working together with [inaudible]. You keep [inaudible] back to China and then the special relationship, so how do you square that circle, when you’re talking about CPEC and Kashmir, and Pakistan, how’s this massive investment from the UK and America in the CPEC [inaudible], the Silk Road, we’ll call it, and yet, you’re worried about the Chinese investment in that area, so how do you square that circle?
Congressman George Holding: It’s really hard, you know, as I said, with China, there is great opportunity there as well, but they’re adversaries as well, so squaring that problem is very complex, I mean, you have, you know, lots of US capital intermingles with Chinese capital, you have lots of Chinese investment in the United States and vice versa. So it’s certainly not a cut-and-dry solution there, but I think, I think, you know, the best thing is just to be very sanguine about the adversarial part of it, and not turn a blind eye to it, recognise it, and address that at the same time you try to engage on opportunities. It’s three-dimensional chess.
Dr Alan Mendoza: And could you give a thought on the President Trump question?
Congressman George Holding: Yes, so if the President were to ask me, I would give him the same advice that I gave President Obama, which is ‘stay out of it’.
Dr Alan Mendoza: So, I must ask you one [inaudible].
Audience Member 20: Sorry, my name is [inaudible], and I’m a journalist for the Middle East [inaudible] Paper National, and I’m sorry if I’ve missed something, I was a little bit late at the beginning..
Congressman George Holding: It’s alright.
Audience Member 20: ..and no-one has asked a question about the Middle East [inaudible], maybe you addressed that in your opening statement.
Congressman George Holding: No, go on.
Audience Member 20: I feel like the US has to kind of balance two things at the moment, a line to walk between trying to check Iranian aggression [inaudible], but more broadly, then also weighing fears in Saudi Arabia, but also in the Emirates, over a kind of all-out conflict, that’s obviously also not something that they would like to see. What line would you like to see the US walk in this [inaudible]?
Congressman George Holding: Well see, you’ve got to remember who your friends are. I think, for anyone, as an individual, as a person, and I try to remember all my friends. I got some really wise advice when I first ran fro Congress, so, my first race was a primary, and you know, in the States we have open primaries, and I was facing two other very well known politicians. One of them had been an elected republican for 20-some odd years, and I had a few people come out to help me, and one of them was a retired US senator that had been friends with my father and grandfather, and we won that primary. And he called me the next day, and he said, he called me ‘boy.
Congressman George Holding: So, he said: ‘Boy, I want you to get the list of everybody who’d helped you in that primary, and I want you to put it in your desk drawer and keep it there for the rest of your life because you just figured out who your friends are. You know, ’cause a lot of folks go through life, and they never figure out exactly who their friends are ’cause there’s never anything that comes up that test them, you know, and, so, the United States needs to remember who their friends are in the Middle East and the rest of the world, but when we’re trying to walk to a line in the Middle East, stick with your friends. And, you know, our friends in the Middle East are the Saudis and the Emirates, the Israelis, and we need to stick with them.
Dr Alan Mendoza: So, I’ve one more question, and obviously I’m not going to ask you to prejudge what happens in the House on the impeachment proceedings, and you’ll be looking at that in your own time , but based on what you have seen thus far, do you believe the President was at the least unwise to have said what he said on that phone-call?
Congressman George Holding: So, with President Trump, you need to understand that he’s not a politician, he’s not steeped in political discourse and nuance. I’ve tried to not be too nuanced today, but I’m sure I have struck some of you as like a politician. He’s certainly not a diplomat and steeped in all the contrivances of skilled diplomats, and he just says what’s on his mind, and you just have to take it at that. And it will infuriate those who don’t like him, and it will make the folks who do like him really happy. So, you just have to look at it through that filter, and, you know, he’s going to have dialogues with world leaders on the terms, the way he wants to do it. I don’t think anybody can give him a set script or talking-points and say, well, you know, hedge here, hedge here and be non-committal here, whatever, he just says it like he sees it.
Dr Alan Mendoza: He certainly does, and Congressman, thank you for saying it like you saw it today.
Dr Alan Mendoza: We have learnt, firstly, how to walk in Vietnam, of course, along the roads, but more importantly, we have learnt, firstly, of your renewed commitment to the special relationship, your deep and personal ties to it, as well as some great insights as to what we can expect from US politicking forwards in several key ares, particularly [inaudible] in terms of China and the relations there. But I think your own career does serve as testimony to the strength of feeling in Congress towards this country which, I know, is shared in this room and down the road as well, and we must wish you well on your endeavours in the Parliamentary group and in continuing to foster these special relations that we have come to rely on so well. So, please do join me in giving the Congressman a very [inaudible]
Congressman George Holding: Good fun!
Dr Alan Mendoza: Thank you so much, thank you.
Congressman George Holding: Sure! Absolutely.