The result of the 2020 US presidential election hangs in the balance. Often described as the most powerful person in the world, the winner’s impact will almost certainly be felt in the UK.
Political commentators anticipate we may not know the final result for days, weeks or even months.
The pandemic has led more people than usual to cast their vote by postal ballot, rather than heading out to polling stations, which takes longer to count up.
President Donald Trump, from the right-of-centre Republican Party, has falsely claimed victory over his challenger, Joe Biden, from the left-of-centre Democratic Party.
He has also made baseless accusations of voter fraud. It is possible that legal disputes over the results could delay the final vote for weeks.
Whoever wins is due to be inaugurated on January 20 2021.
As we wait to find out what will happen, EachOther looks at five ways the outcome could affect our rights in the UK. US Election
Our workers’ rights under a US-UK trade deal
The UK currently trades with the US on terms negotiated by the EU, but that will end on 1 January when the post-Brexit transition period ends.
The UK and US are currently negotiating a trade deal, which is unlikely to be agreed until after the next president is inaugurated on January 20.
After January 1, workers’ rights in the UK will no longer be underpinned by EU regulations known as the “level playing field” commitments, which included:
- The working time directive, limiting the number of hours people can work a week;
- Requirements for workers doing the same jobs to be paid equally
Amid accusations of eroding workers’ rights, the UK government last year pledged to protect and enhance rights in a separate employment bill. What progress the government has so far made on bringing this bill forward is unclear.
While there are clearly a number of moving parts, the future of our workers’ rights could be influenced by the priorities of those negotiating a US-UK trade deal.
Trump has described himself as “Mr Brexit” and hopes to strike a speedy deal.
Biden was vice-president to former president Barack Obama, who said that the UK would be put at the “back of the queue” if it voted to leave the EU in 2016. It is possible trade negotiation under his leadership will be slower, as he tries to repair relations with the EU.
In March this year, the UK’s Trade Union Congress issued a joint call with the leader of the US’ AFL-CIO union to urge Downing Street and the White House to put workers rights and jobs first in any trade deal.
“A bad trade deal with the US will put working people’s jobs and rights on the line and undermine our vital public services, environment and food standards,” warned the TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady.
Our right to health US Election
Our right to health is protected under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The outcome of the US election could affect this right in at least two ways.
Firstly, the coronavirus has spread across the globe without respect for national borders.
How each country handles the virus inevitably has implications for its neighbours.
The president is seeking to withdraw the US’ membership of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the international body set up to promote and protect health worldwide – and has threatened to fire his top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci.
Biden, as the challenger, is untested in his handling of pandemics. However, he has set out a seven-point plan for how he would address it, which includes restoring relations with the WHO.
Secondly, in the UK our right to health is protected largely through our state-funded National Health Service (NHS). Established in 1948, it grants us access to healthcare without charge.
The US, by contrast, has a largely privatised healthcare system. Many patients have to pay fees, or make insurance claims, for treatments freely available in the UK.
It is feared that the NHS could be encroached upon in US trade negotiations.
Trump has said it is a priority the US pharmaceutical industry has more say over what prices the NHS pays for medication, which is currently determined by experts.
Biden’s position on this is less clear.
The US under the Obama-Biden administration sought to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, now termed CPTPP after some amendments) – a trade agreement said to offer favourable advantages to pharmaceutical firms.
The Trump administration exited the TPP but Biden may seek to return to it in its new iteration, which could force the UK to negotiate on its terms when it comes to trade.
UK negotiators have said that in any US trade talks: “The NHS will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table.”
Our rights amid the climate crisis US Election
In a report published last summer, former UN special rapporteur Philip Alston warned that “catastrophic” consequences of climate change threaten to undermine basic human rights and democracy unless governments take “drastic action”.
Climate change related events such as flash floods, coastal flooding, wildfires, infectious disease, extreme heat and pollution pose significant threats to the right to life, protected in Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Alston said.
He also identified the rights to housing, food and water – protected in the Convenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – among others as likely to be at stake.
Gina McCarthy, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the BBC that Trump’s administration “has done everything they can do to deny the science and denigrate scientists”.
Alongside withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, almost 100 environmental rules have been reversed under his presidency.
Biden, in contrast, has pledged for the US to go carbon-free by 2035, which would make the country a net zero emitter by 2035.
He said he hopes to introduce electric vehicles and trains and build 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.
Our right not to be discriminated against
A wave of anti-racism protests spread to the UK this summer following the killing of unarmed African American George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis.
The UK’s disparate Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement held demonstrations to protest police brutality and institutional racism domestically as well as in solidarity with the US and elsewhere.
Which president is chosen, and their attitudes to the movement, could influence efforts to address discrimination and institutional racism in the UK.
President Trump has criticised BLM and refused to condemn white supremacist groups who have clashed with protesters.
In a September debate, Trump said that racial sensitivity training for law enforcement was itself racist. But when accused of racism, Trump has often pointed to low levels of black unemployment and poverty under his presidency.
Biden has said that there is “systemic injustice” in law enforcement, as well as bad apples. He also chose Kamala Harris to be his running mate, making her the first African American and Asian American vice presidential candidate, and served as vice president under Barack Obama.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has also been accused of inflaming racism against Asian Americans by using racially insensitive terms to describe Covid-19.
He also faces long-standing accusations of misogyny, sexual misconduct and discrimination in relation to his 2017 travel ban on numerous Muslim-majority countries.
On LGBTQ+ rights, Biden has pledged to make the Equality Act a “top legislative priority” if he is to be voted into office, passing the LGBTQ+ rights legislation within the first 100 days of his administration.
Trump’s administration, on the other hand, directly opposed the Equality Act since it “undermined parental and conscience rights”.
The Rule of Law
The rule of law is vitally important. It is essentially the principle that no one, not even the government, is above the law.
This is vital if we are to be able to legally enforce our rights, such as those protected under the Human Rights Act.
Legal experts have criticised president Trump’s attitude to the rule of law. A year after Trump’s inauguration, Columbia Law School’s Prof Peter Strauss wrote that he was “acting as if a monarch”.
His “presidential authority is unchecked and ventures away from any commonly shared interpretation of the constitutional rule of law,” he added.
Although he acknowledges that previous presidents, including Clinton and Obama, have also attempted to extend their authority.
Biden, by contrast, recently praised the rule of law at a speech in Las Vegas, warning that civil and constitutional rights are under “unrelenting attack”.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is said to be “fascinated” by President Donald Trump.
Legal experts have highlighted how the two have each led an attack on the rule of law in their respective countries.
Among the instances in which Johnson has been accused of undermining the rule of law is with the Internal Market Bill, which the government admitted breaches international law.
It is also feared the government will try to water down judicial review – the means in which people can challenge government decisions, and those of other public bodies.
Could Biden’s approach, if elected, force Boris Johnson to change his?
Only time will tell.