Joe Biden win would reshape US-UK special relationship

A Joe Biden victory in the US election may improve the state of the special relationship with the UK – but issues surrounding Brexit and the Irish border could yet throw a spanner in the works.

The US-UK relationship has been turbulent under Donald Trump, although he has repeatedly praised Boris Johnson and backed Brexit.

A Biden administration would be expected to put a much greater focus on international diplomacy – including with the UK – than the Trump White House’s “America first” agenda.

But while Mr Johnson has enjoyed a largely friendly relationship with Mr Trump, he has not met former vice president Mr Biden.

In December 2019, Mr Biden labelled the Prime Minister as a “physical and emotional clone” of Mr Trump.

And he has already issued a stark warning about Mr Johnson’s apparent willingness to tear up the Brexit divorce deal over measures aimed at addressing issues around the Irish border.

Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the US and the Americas programme at the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank, has criticised Mr Johnson’s Government for being “tone deaf” over the way Democrats would respond.

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sought to play down the row, insisting he understood the importance of the Good Friday Agreement to Democrats – Bill Clinton helped broker the deal – and the influence of the Irish lobby.

He said he had met Democrats and “explained the UK position and that actually we have been clear all along that there is no threat to the Good Friday Agreement” from Brexit.

Mr Biden has warned that the Good Friday Agreement cannot become a “casualty of Brexit” and any future UK-US trade deal would be contingent on respect for the accord.

US Election 2020
Donald Trump with Boris Johnson (Steve Parsons/PA)

The 77-year-old is expected to focus on improving US links around the world after Mr Trump strained key international relationships, including with Europe and Nato.

Dr Vinjamuri said: “Britain and America are incredibly important to each other and there is the best will in the world to make sure that that relationship works, and that will certainly be a key priority for a Biden administration – the culture, the history, the intelligence-sharing, the natural collaboration at the level of the executive – this is deep stuff.”

A victory for Mr Biden means there would be an effort to “rehabilitate and repair and restore” America’s standing in the world and “the British are going to be right near the top of the list”.

He would want his country to resume a leading role in world diplomacy, with plans for a “summit for democracy” in a bid to unite like-minded nations, in part a response to the rise of China.

“It’s going to be a more diplomatic approach to everything,” Dr Vinjamuri said, although, compared with the Trump administration, “it’s such a low bar, it’s hard to imagine anything but more diplomacy”.

After Brexit, there is speculation that Berlin rather than London may be Mr Biden’s main focus in Europe.

Mr Raab has said that while the “contours” of the special relationship will be different under the new president, the “bedrock” – based on strong cultural, economic and security ties – will endure.

One area where things will improve is on the international effort to tackle climate change.

Mr Biden has signalled his intention to rejoin the Paris accord after Mr Trump pulled the US out, something that will be welcomed in Westminster as the UK prepares to host the delayed United Nations Cop26 climate summit.

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