Paul A. Nuttall is a historian, author and a former politician. He was a Member of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2019 and was a prominent campaigner for Brexit.
The two leaders may broadly agree on their common opposition to Beijing, but it’s unlikely that much progress will be made on what matters most to the UK – landing an elusive trade deal with Washington.
British PM Boris Johnson will this week be in Washington for a White House meeting with President Joe Biden. Both leaders will want different things from this summit: Biden will seek to build bridges and Johnson will want to see some movement on the hard-to-land post-Brexit US–UK trade deal that we hear so much about.
The problem that Johnson faces is that the Democrats have despised Brexit from the very beginning. They see it as dangerous, populist, and too close to Trumpism for their liking. Indeed, it represents everything the Democrats fear: namely, the public rising up and rejecting the condescending “do as I say and not as do” advice from liberal metropolitan elites.
And boy, did the Democrats pull out all the stops to ensure that Brexit didn’t happen in the first place. Even during the referendum campaign, the then president, Barack Obama, flew to the UK to warn Brits that if they voted for Brexit they would be “in the back of the queue” when it came to trade deals.
Even after the British people ignored him and voted to leave the EU, the then Secretary of State, John Kerry, who is now Biden’s climate advisor, claimed that “there are a number of ways” that Brexit could be “walked back.”
When their warnings and advice were not heeded, the Democrats took to belittling British Brexit voters and telling them they had made a mistake.
The failed presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, told a British newspaper that Brexit voters had “voted against modern Britain and the EU, believing that somehow this would be good for their small village. It made no sense.” Similarly, another failed presidential candidate, Al Gore, told an audience in Spain that Britain’s decision to leave the EU was “perhaps the stupidest decision a country could have taken.”
And it is not only the Democrat politicians of yesteryear who feel this way, as those still in power have no time for Brexit. On a visit to the UK last week, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Congress, warned that if Brexit impacted on peace in Northern Ireland, then the UK could forget about a trade deal with the US. She stated that this was “not a threat” but “a prediction.”
This, however, was nothing new, as Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, made it clear that Senate Democrats would oppose any trade deal that affected the Good Friday Agreement or meant a return to a hard border in Ireland. He also waspishly noted that “it is not surprising” that “56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit.”
Now, honestly, can you imagine a British politician sticking their nose in American affairs in this way? There would be uproar Stateside, and rightly so.
And now what about Joe Biden? Well, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, Biden, the then Vice President, admitted that “I must say we had looked for a different outcome.” Like Pelosi and Schumer, Biden’s hatred of Brexit, and his opposition to a UK-US trade deal, rests on the thorny issue of Northern Ireland.
During this summer’s G7 summit in Cornwall, Biden was said to have had a “candid” conversation with Johnson about the dangers Brexit was posing to peace in Northern Ireland. May I suggest at this point that he also has a word with the EU, as it is their intransigence over the Northern Ireland Protocol that is putting peace at risk in the province. Indeed, Lord David Trimble, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, made this clear in a recent letter to Biden.
Now if Donald Trump was still in the White House, it would be a different story altogether. Trump was a supporter of Brexit and his administration made it clear that the UK would be at the “first in line” for a trade deal, which could be done “very quickly, very straight-forwardly.”
But Boris has to play with the hand he has been dealt, and that means dealing with Biden. The only boon for Boris could be the current president’s incompetence. You see, Biden seems to be quickly running out of friends on the world stage. The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, which he ordered without notifying any of his allied counterparts, sullied America’s reputation as a trusted partner.
Moreover, the recent AUKUS deal, whereby the US will build a fleet of nuclear submarines for Australia, also upset many within the EU. The French, in particular, are furious, as they already had a deal in place with Australia to build a new fleet of submarines. Now the French ambassador has been withdrawn from Washington in protest.
Now I applaud the AUKUS deal, but there is no getting away from the fact that it has damaged America’s relations with the EU, and this could be to Boris Johnson’s advantage. Indeed, the Biden administration’s cack-handed approach to foreign relations has turned the traditional Democrat policy of pandering to the EU on its head; and may well have pushed the US into the arms of the UK.
So, Boris and Biden will head into these talks with different objectives. Johnson will want movement on a trade deal that so many Democrats are determined to oppose. Biden, on the other hand, needs to build bridges following the Afghanistan calamity. I am sure bridges will be built, but when it comes to the trade deal, I can’t see Brexit Boris getting much joy from Brexit bashing Biden.