Now that the dust has settled on a tumultuous and protracted electoral battle, the picture looks clear; Joe Biden is set to become the United States’ 46th president. Europe will be elated; the president-elect has reiterated his support for the trans-Atlantic partnership numerous times. On top of that, Biden’s more conventional demeanour is likely to resonate with the largely liberal and social democratic-leaning leaders of the European Union. This however leaves the United Kingdom in an awkward position. Indeed, despite Boris Johnson’s best efforts to distance himself from President Trump’s praises, Democrats have a cautious outlook on the Prime Minister. They have good reasons to be suspicious, as Brexit, and the recent developments associated with it, have done much to tarnish the UK’s international reputation. This being said, the common ground Democrats and Conservatives share on some key foreign policy issues may just be enough to maintain a productive, if uneasy relationship.
For starters’ Mr. Biden’s position on Brexit has been fairly unambiguous: hands off the Good Friday Agreement, or the UK-US trade deal goes bust. The president elect’s statement came in response to Mr. Johnson’s last-minute meddling with the Withdrawal Agreement, which would undo measures to prevent the restoration of a hard border in Northern Ireland. It is unsurprising that Mr. Biden would want to prevent this; the agreement has been one of the most successful peace deals in recent history, one which the US had a major hand in orchestrating. Ensuring that the integrity of the accord is maintained is thus key to 46’s planned restoration of America’s image as the bulwark of the liberal world order. Consequently, should Johnson fail to abandon his revisionist tendencies, US-UK relations are likely to become frosty, which a Britain in the process of burning its bridges with Europe cannot afford.
The matter is not helped by Mr. Biden’s personal feelings towards Mr. Johnson. Animosity between the two men goes as far back as 2016, when the future Prime Minister misguidedly associated President Obama’s anti-Brexit stance with an antipathy for Britain allegedly born out of his Kenyan roots. The sprinkles of racist gaffs and nationalist machismo over the subsequent decades would culminate with Mr. Biden characterising Mr. Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Mr. Trump. And whilst this points a clear annoyance on the part of the President-elect, sources close to the Democrats’ ticket have revealed that Kamala Harris harbours considerably stronger resentment. As a result of all this, a “special relationship” akin to that of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan is out of the question. The ball will most definitely be on Mr. Johnson’s court to maintain a working relationship with the new administration, something which will be key in a post-Brexit Britain.
Despite these animosities, it is undeniable that many of Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson’s foreign policy goals are aligned, especially in areas of security. Ironically, Russia is a unifier in this regard. Not only is Britain one of the more belligerent proponents of trade sanctions against the country, but its view of the Kremlin has steadily declined following recent allegations of espionage and poisoning within the UK. The Conservatives will find an ally in Mr. Biden, as the president-elect has frequently commented on the threat that Russia poses to the West, in stark contrast to his predecessor. In the Middle Eastern theatre meanwhile, Britain, as well as the European mainland as a whole, will be relieved to see the US reassert leadership in the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Climate change will also prove to be an important area of cooperation for the two countries. The UK enjoys the benefit of both its major parties recognising the dangers posed by global warming and has thus consistently focused on cutting CO2 emissions in recent years. Despite a more schizophrenic record in this regard, the US now looks poised to embrace some of the biggest climate change reforms in recent memory, including, but not limited to re-joining the Paris Climate Accords. If America, Britain and other key European countries can agree on a workable trans-Atlantic environmental framework, Mr. Johnson should redeem himself somewhat in the eyes of the new administration. On top of dispelling any lingering association with Mr. Trump, such a partnership would give the UK a diplomatic opening into additional avenues of cooperation. Whatever Mr. Johnson chooses to do with it, he would be wise to keep his nation’s precarious international image and position in mind at every step of the way.
Featured photo by Michael Stokes. Available on Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license