Britain post-Brexit is firmly at the ‘back of the queue’ and Biden is in no hurry to oblige Johnson…
Written by Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It was back in July 2019 it was reported that Britain and the US were to sign up to a ‘substantial’ trade deal; one that then President Donald Trump boasted would lead to ‘three to four, five times’ more trade than the two countries currently have. It was to be a huge boost to Boris Johnsons’s campaign in the run up to the December 2019 ‘Brexit’ election, which he won by a substantial majority.
However, two years on there is little sign of a trade agreement between the US and Britain. In the latest update, newly promoted Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has refused even to commit to a pact being signed by 2030, playing down the importance of such a transatlantic trade deal by stating it’s not the ‘be all and end all’ of post-Brexit trading. Truss is not the only one downgrading what was once portrayed as the ‘prize’ of Brexit. Government officials and even the PM himself have been suggesting for months now, since President Biden came to office, that the new US leader has other priorities, with Johnson claiming that the Americans are ‘tough negotiators’.
The reality is, of course, that Joe Biden is not as excited about a trade deal with the UK as his predecessor was. Trump revelled in doing business. It was what he did best. He didn’t write ‘The Art of the Deal’ for nothing. Biden, on the other hand, isn’t so concerned with the commercial aspects of UK-US relations . As an ‘Irishman’ (as he likes to refer to himself) he is perturbed about the border situation on the island of Ireland post-Brexit. His concern over this may be holding him back from committing to any trade deal with Johnson as yet.
Relations between the UK and US have left something to be desired since President Biden came to office. Biden clearly views Johnson as something of a Trumpian, populist character and has not hesitated to snub him time and time again. From ignoring Johnson’s calls during the fall of Kabul, to the abandonment of trade deal negotiations, and the recent blindsiding of Johnson over the lifting of transatlantic travel restrictions; there are many signs that Biden does not view the British PM as his equal.
Boris Johnson on the other hand is playing the role of the lap dog at America’s beck and call, to the letter. The recent UK visit to the US was hurriedly organised to ‘smooth over’ relations between the countries after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan which invoked widespread cross-party criticism from British politicians and military figures. It was clearly a desperate attempt to ‘patch things up’ with big brother across the water, after several MPs spoke out against ‘idiotic’ decision-making from the Amercians over the Afghanistan withdrawal. Once again, Britain appeared to have been left in the dark over the last couple of years as the US planned its exit from the Central Asian nation, with the military finding out about American plans via news reports.
The fact is, Joe Biden is a ‘realist’ politician. He respects power, and he just doesn’t see post-Brexit Britain as a significant global player the way it was as part of the EU. The UK’s negotiating position, having left the European trading bloc, is now much weaker. As Barack Obama warned back in 2016, even before the EU referendum, the UK would ‘be at the back of the queue’ for trade deal talks if Brexit were to take place. In any case, Britain needs a trade deal with America more than America needs it. And herein lies the problem.
In a way, the recently announced nuclear submarine agreement ‘AUKUS’ can be seen as a strategic move by Johnson to put the bilateral relationship back in the limelight, and emphasise its importance, this time in a bid to arm their Australian ally against the supposed ‘Chinese threat’. The dramatically staged press conference which announced the trilateral pact, with all three leaders straddling time zones to simultaneously appear before the world, was a PR effort to show solidarity between western allies. It came across as promoting the Anglosphere, in what was a huge snub to Europe and particularly France, who hadn’t even been informed that Australia was abandoning their own multi-million dollar submarine deal as a result. Such an ostentatious PR stunt was very much in keeping with Johnson’s style, and therefore one can presume that much of it was his idea.
However such spectacles are short-lived and have little impact in today’s fast-moving news cycle. A couple of weeks after the AUKUS announcement, most people have forgotten about it. Which is more than can be said for the post-Brexit trade deal. There is now more pressure on Johnson domestically than ever before to deliver on his post-Brexit promises as the reality of leaving the EU now kicks in. Britain is now lacking workers in critical industries: shortages of HGV drivers have led to empty shelves and queues at petrol stations and abattoirs without staff to cull livestock. Johnson has shrugged it off as the necessary evils of the transition to autonomy after EU membership – not the response the public were looking for.
And in the midst of all this chaos it’s unlikely that Joe Biden will sweep down and rescue Johnson in his hour of need by offering him that long-awaited trade deal. The fact is Britain’s status has diminished post-Brexit and despite Boris Johnson’s talk of ‘Global Britain’ and even ‘Galactic Britain’, the UK remains a great power only in the PM’s head. As such Britain will continue to play a dependent, subservient role in relation to the US; like a lap dog at its master’s feet, struggling to be heard.
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What’s worse is that even if Johnson and the Tories are voted out, Labor is no better.