Now that Joe Biden has landed, many Brits may now be realising what a stalwart friend you had in Trump. Within minutes of arriving on UK shores, Biden was denouncing Britannia, Boris, Brexit — you name it. Far from hailing the UK, America’s most cherished ally, BIden was showing Britain a bullying disdain that should be reserved only for China or Iran.
It is difficult to conceive of two stranger bedfellows than the golden-tongued Old Etonian and the awkward, plain-spoken ‘blue collar’ Joe Biden. But rhetoric, style and acuity aside, the two heads of government face divergent motivations when it comes to policy — these are likely to challenge the British-American partnership.
Last week, Biden’s top UK diplomat Yael Lempert issued an official (and offensive) reprimand to Lord Frost, Johnson’s Brexit minister, suggesting that the UK is inflaming tension with the EU and Ireland over the Northern Irish Protocol. Nevermind that Biden is inserting the US into affairs in which it has no business and that he is so willing to flagrantly line up against our staunchest ally. Nevermind that Biden is dangling trade goodies in exchange for British acquiescence to the EU.
Biden has committed to reversing Donald Trump’s foreign policies, mostly on grounds of authorship rather than merit. Many Americans deeply regret this return to Obama-style postures, which bows to unelected transnationals and ultimately alienates friends and emboldens enemies.
In defiance of his strongman image, Trump mostly kept America out of global conflicts. When his team did engage, they achieved more than any prior US presidency when it came to cooling the conflicts in the Middle East. Donald Trump was one of the greatest champions of Britain ever to grace the Oval Office, whether or not that raises British eyebrows. In word and deed, Trump celebrated the USA’s most important global alliance and viewed Britain through the same lens that gave rise to his ‘American Greatness’ mantra.
Britain’s demand to recover its sovereignty resonated with Trump’s world view and he supported it from the first moments of his presidency. Trump’s rhetoric might have been grating to many British ears but his relations with the country were largely harmonious on substance. He never made over-reaching demands on our staunchest ally and he didn’t meddle beyond expressing personal opinion (quod vide Brexit or recognising how much luck Harry would need in his marriage).
The single international policy prize that mattered to Britain and eluded him was a US-UK Free Trade Agreement. Chagrin within the halls of Brussels was no reason to hold back from this — he saw the EU for what it is — but this mutually beneficial pact was never going to be allowed. Democrat ideology, driving as it does in the Pelosi direction of Congress, is ambiguous to the national interest. Opposing anything authored by Trump is the guiding star.
As Biden makes this first transatlantic crossing as President, the contrast is stark. His team insists that Biden will ‘re-establish America’s global leadership’ and ‘earn back our position of trusted leadership’. This is a false premise. Given Trump’s alignment with the UK, Biden’s anti-Trumpism has to be expressed in other ways. Most likely this means favouring transnationals such as the UN, EU and WHO rather than our most trusted ally. It probably also means looking to back those bleating loudest about Britain’s escape from the EU.
Biden’s primordial identity is ‘I’m Irish’. True to form, the out-of-touch President has internalised all of the anti-British prejudices and grievances that Irish immigrants brought to America. It is hardly surprising that Biden has threatened Boris Johnson over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a matter of no US national interest, rather than pursuing what should matter in the bilateral context — most obviously a US-UK trade deal.
Anti-Trumpism means opposing Brexit. The merits of the thing cannot be rationally assessed on its own terms. Johnson and Biden are united in some areas such as the climate change agenda, and, in principle, to holding China, Russia and Iran to account. But their relationship is fraught with obstacles. As Johnson has put his nation on a path of its own, Biden’s view accords with that of his former boss: notwithstanding the many ties of culture, language, values, intelligence sharing and defence, the bilateral relationship with the UK is to be always subordinate to a certain world order.
British friends who suffered from a form of Trump-induced derangement may soon realise that the affliction blinded them to a true friend.
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