Saturday, 7 November 2020

Biden, BoJo, and Brexit

As Donald Trump drowned his considerable sorrows in a round of gulf this Saturday and the rest of the Republicans miserably lamented, spare a thought for someone outside Team Trump hoping he'd pull off another win. Yes, Boris Johnson finally said something about the US presidential election. As world leaders lined up to condemn Trump's transparent and pathetic attempts to derail counts and claim them fraudulent, this most incontinent of gossp mongers, leakers, and opinion peddlers was uncharacteristically mum. That is, until the result was finally declared. There were good reasons for his welcome period of quiet.

Over at Business Insider, there are several explanations why Johnson is apprehensive about a Biden presidency. Apparently, the president-elect sees Johnson as cut from the same Trumpist cloth, which is fair enough. His lies aren't as egregious, but they come to Johnson just as easily. He has form hanging around with and taking advice from Steve Bannon, and has stirred the same populist pot that powered Trump to victory in 2016. And while readers here aren't likely to be Biden's biggest fan, he's certainly shown more circumspection treating with Johnson than former Labour politicians now sitting in the Lords as reward for backing the "mini-Trump" over their own party.

There's also the issue of racism. Johnson might like pointing to his multiracial clique of well-heeled ministers and occasionally his own distant Turkish heritage, but there was the time when, as London mayor, he accused Barack Obama of having an "ancestral dislike" thanks to his "part-Kenyan" background. Characteristically Johnson refused to apologise or back down, cheered on as always by his mates in the media. Unfortunately, Joe Biden apparently remembers sleights - especially where close friends are concerned. Another strike against Johnson.

Much more important than all this is what Biden's victory means for Brexit. Westminster watchers have noted how the return of Donald Trump would have seen Johnson more willing to walk away from discussions with Brussels, and plunge the country into further calamity by defaulting to EU trade on WTO terms, partly mediated by the thin protections of his withdrawal agreement. Regardless of the damage this would cause, Johnson hoped Trump would ride to the rescue and serve him up a political triumph in the form of a trading deal. It wouldn't replace what was lost from tearing up trading relations with the near abroad, but for Johnson this was never the point. Now a Biden White House won't play to this nonsense. Not because they think Brexit is stupid (it is) and diminishes the UK's status and usefulness as a bridge into Europe (it does), but thanks to some very stupid game playing.

Introduced to dragoon the EU into accepting UK demands, the threat to break an international treaty was destined to blow up in Johnson's face. It was idiotic because no putatative trading partner would want to strike a deal with a state who tears up treaty obligations for posturing purposes, and utterly reckless given, as Johnson knew, the polls were in Biden's favour in the race for the White House. This incoherence and extreme short-termism, also a characteristic of the Covid strategy among other things in recent years, now finds Johnson's Brexit scheme jeopardised by an incoming president who will not accept unilateral alteration to the Good Friday Agreement. Indeed, this five second clip from earlier today might be interpreted as a shot across Johnson's bows. Especially as Biden is keen to repair relations with the EU Trump at best neglected, and at worst worsened.

The pressure is now on Johnson. With disruption inevitable in Dover even with a deal, he now has a political imperative to move toward an agreement quickly. The negotiating context has shifted. There's poltiical capital to be made from thumbing one's nose at Brussels, but certainly not at the president-elect. And with polls finally turning and reporting consistent leads for Labour, there is nothing to cushion him: a hard Brexit means a hard fall out, and one he might never recover from. The odds of a deal have substantially increased as Johnson's Get Out of Jail Free card might end up in pokey once he leaves the White House. If it looks like Johnson is being pushed into a deal by changed US realities, then his position grows more precarious. If the UK are forced to swallow something or even compromise and his followers notice, his authority is gone. The "Global Britain" as an independent trading nation is for the vapours, and the Prime Minister lives on borrowed time.

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3 comments:

Jim Denham said...

Johnson (according to a leading US Democrat, quoted in today's Sunday Times), is a "shapeshifting creep". Love it!

Dipper said...

2 Jim Denham. Why do you love it? Do you hate the government so much are you happy to see your country in effect become a colony of they EU, or Ireland? Are you happy for your vote to mean nothing?

Jim Denham said...

Yes! You finally got it, Dipper-mouth!