Britain 'at the back of the queue'?

Dr Andrew Moran, Head of Politics and International Relations, says Biden's election may have made it harder to establish a UK-US trade deal post-Brexit.

Date: 02 December 2020

The election of Joe Biden has put pressure on the Prime Minister to do a deal with the European Union.  Whereas Donald Trump was an enthusiastic supporter of Brexit, Biden is a known supporter of European integration and is opposed to Brexit.

In addition, Biden is concerned about the risks posed by the Internal Markets Bill to the Good Friday Agreement, which has alarmed many in America who believe that Johnson is favouring Brexit over the interest of peace in Ireland. Biden has warned. "Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period."

Domestically, a significant problem for the Prime Minister, and Brexiteers, is that the government has always argued that a closer trade relationship with the US would be one of the benefits of leaving the EU, Johnson even suggesting in 2017 that Britain was "first in line to do a great free trade deal" with the Trump administration.

That situation has now changed and Britain may well find itself at the "back of the queue", as President Obama famously said, as Biden’s priority will most likely be to focus on rebuilding America’s relationship with the 27 states of the  European Union, a relationship that has been badly damaged by Trump.

Johnson, himself, admitted as much recently when he conceded when asked about a trade deal with the US, "I've never believed that this was going to be something that was going to be a complete pushover under any US administration."

A stark reality for Johnson is that the Biden Administration will have other priorities in its first hundred days, not least tackling an increasingly out of control pandemic, rebuilding the economy, and dealing with any problems Trump may choose to create on his way out the door.

This is further complicated by Johnson, himself, who has never met Biden, and who the President-Elect once called a "physical and emotional clone of Trump". Many Democrats remember the Prime Minister commenting on Barack Obama’s "half-Kenyan" heritage, not least Obama’s former White House spokesman who described Johnson as a "shapeshifting creep" in a recent tweet, warning, "we will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump."

Though Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab tried to play down these comments, the government is clearly aware of the difficult position it now finds itself in.

There are positive signs, however. Biden should be a closer and more reliable ally than Trump on key areas of concern to UK foreign policy, including NATO, the Middle East, and climate change – with the government clearly signposting the importance of US involvement in the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow next year.

It was never going to be easy doing a trade deal with Trump. But with Biden, it has, perhaps, got a little bit harder. But that does not mean that it will not happen. As Johnson himself has said there is more that unites the US and UK governments than divides them.

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