Will Change of Oval Office Occupant Mean Change of Washington’s Heart Towards the UK?

With the US inching ever closer to Election Day, observers are weighing in on how Washington’s foreign policy towards the UK might change given the Brexit realities and heated debate over Britain’s Internal Market Bill. British academics have discussed possible post-Brexit scenarios in case Joe Biden wins or Donald Trump stays in the Oval Office.

The Internal Market Bill championed by the Boris Johnson cabinet has become an apple of discord between the UK and the EU and has been subjected to sharp criticism by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period”, Biden tweeted on 16 September while the chorus of Democratic lawmakers said that if London violates international laws a US-UK trade agreement would not pass the Congress.

The legislation, introduced by Boris Johnson in early September to guarantee the UK’s sovereignty in a post-Brexit era, overrides the withdrawal deal with the EU and threatens to shatter the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) struck by the UK, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland.

​’EU Will be Biden’s First Port of Call if He Wins Election’

Although Trump administration officials have also expressed concerns over the introduction and the passage of the much discussed British Internal Market Bill, the American mainstream media has suggested that the legislation has opened the door for the US to push its own agenda, i.e. “to pull the UK closer to its own regulatory worldview”, according to CNBC.

​However, it can’t be ruled out that Donald Trump, a Brexit supporter and a proponent of a bilateral free trade deal between the UK and the US, may leave the Oval Office in January 2021, which clearly affects London’s negotiation strategy.  

Trump and Biden offer quite different perspectives in terms of a future relationship with the UK, admits Mark Shanahan, an associate professor at the Berkshire-based University of Reading.

“On the one hand, Trump wants an acolyte; a state willing to offer legitimacy to his direction of travel on such issues as trade and defence. Trump likes a supplicant – a weaker state looking to enhance itself through its relationship with a global superpower”, the professor says. “Biden, with a long-term interest in foreign affairs, is likely to return to the norms of international relations. But, like Obama before him, he won’t put the UK first in the queue for any favourable trade deals or special treatment”.

The EU will be Biden’s first port of call should he inherit the keys to the White House, according to Shanahan, who warns that “the UK’s ham-fisted dealing over the Northern Ireland border as it exits the EU will win few friends in a potential Biden administration”.

The UK shouldn’t expect too much from the British-American special relationship either, the academic believes.

“The special relationship is asymmetric and one-sided”, he says. “There are special relationships to be had by the US in Europe – but the reality is that they’re much more likely to be forged in Paris, Berlin and Brussels under a Biden presidency”.

He has drawn attention to the fact that although the incumbent American president may be interested in the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, it is the US Congress that “plays an absolutely key role in trade deals”.

“Neither the House nor the Senate seems particularly favourable to the UK at present – and that antipathy will be even sharper if the post-Brexit Trade Agreement talks do finally collapse over the coming week”, the professor says.

Will UK-US Relations Thrive Whoever Wins the White House?

Joe Biden’s criticism of the UK’s Internal Market Bill is understandable, but it does not mean that the US under Biden will leave Britain out in the cold, argues Alistair Jones, associate professor at De Montfort University. Whether Biden or Trump wins the Oval office, it will still be okay for the UK, according to him.

The British legislation comes in contradiction with the Good Friday Agreement which was sponsored by the European Union and by the United States, the professor underscores.

“Both the EU and the US have got an obligation to make sure that Britain abides by the Good Friday Agreement”, he says. “And our proposed internal market legislation does not do that. So Biden was perfectly within his rights from an international perspective to raise this as a concern. Regardless of that, if he becomes the president, he will still want to have a close relationship with the UK”.

​One should keep in mind that besides trade relations, the US and the UK have close military ties, according to Jones: “There are US military bases still in the UK”, he notes. “The UK and the US are the biggest countries paying into NATO”.

“So the reality is Biden has been critical of Brexit, yes, but that will not be at the expense of any future relationship with the UK”, the academic believes.

Similarly, Jones argues that one shouldn’t underestimate British-American historical ties, which laid the groundwork for the special relations between the two powers: “In Britain, we see ourselves as being America’s closest ally”, he says. “We speak the same language. We’ve got a shared history. We always help each other out. So in that respect, it doesn’t matter who is in the office of the West Wing”.

If Donald Trump wins his re-election bid, the UK-US partnership will carry on as it currently is, and Britain will be trying to get an excellent trade deal with the US, the academic remarks, emphasising the warm personal relations between President Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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