Trump vs Biden: how the US election result could influence Brexit talks
- If Donald Trump wins a second term, Boris Johnson is more likely to feel emboldened to plump for no deal with the EU. Joe Biden, however, has long been opposed to the UK’s departure from Europe
Final US presidential debate for Trump and Biden covers Covid-19, China and ‘thug’ Kim
If, however, Joe Biden wins the election, Johnson could have more to lose than any world leader. This is not because Biden is anti-British; on the contrary, he was, for instance, a staunch supporter of London over the 1992 Falklands war with Argentina, which divided the Reagan administration despite the latter’s admiration of then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
The reason for Johnson’s concern is that Biden views him as a political soulmate of Trump, despite the many differences between the two men on key issues. This underlines the degree to which Johnson (who the White House has called the “British Trump”) may have misstepped diplomatically by putting so many of the UK’s diplomatic eggs in Trump’s basket.
That is why a Biden win could significantly affect Johnson’s calculus on whether to go for a trade agreement rather than no deal with the EU. If Biden wins, the prospects of securing a UK-US trade deal would be shakier than before.
To be sure, there are key areas ripe for agreement whoever wins, including lowering or eliminating tariffs on goods. However, there are also icebergs on the horizon.
Specific areas of potential disagreement on trade include the prospect that harmonising financial regulations, given the international dominance of Wall Street and the City of London, would not necessarily be straightforward. Nor will it be easy to secure agreement in other sectors, including agriculture, where there are a divergence of views and strong interest groups.
If Biden wins, perhaps the best Johnson can hope for is that the new president will quickly put aside personal and partisan differences and forge a constructive partnership built on the traditional ties between the two nations founded on demographics, religion, culture, law, politics and economics.
Many uncertainties lie ahead in the special relationship, whether Trump or Biden wins. Johnson will be more nervous in the short term, however, if there is a change of president, and is likely to seek to play the role of a trusted but candid friend to Biden in a bid to make the relationship work as smoothly as possible. This may provide some protection for relations in what could be a rocky initial period, especially if strong personal chemistry fails to take root.
However, even this safety-first strategy is not without risk. While seeking the upside in the new relationship, Johnson would be wise not to overestimate the UK’s ability to shape US power, or be blind to the prospect that Biden’s outlook may care less for core British interests than in the past, as he increasingly looks to Germany and France for post-Brexit European leadership.
Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics