“When you wanted to do something with Europe, you made the first or perhaps second call to London,” said Charles Kupchan, who served as a senior official of the European National Security Council in the Obama and Clinton administration. In 2021, “you are still going to call London, but that call will be lower in the queue. Britain no longer has a seat at the table, ‘thanks to Brexit,’ he said.
Other Democrats speak in a sad term about a relationship that Winston Churchill once described as “fraternal.” ‘London will continue to be a player’ and ‘we will always regard the UK as an ally’ is a common refrain. But these are the powerhouses of Brussels, Paris and Berlin, not Downing St. and Whitehall no. 10 which is increasingly drawing the attention of Washington.
While Democrats welcome Britain’s recent $ 22 billion increase in defense spendingand plans for close climate cooperation: “Biden wants to strengthen and renew ties with the EU, and Britain will not be part of it,” one said person familiar with Biden’s thinking.
President Donald Trump had a sometimes rocky relationship with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, but his distrust of the EU and NATO meant that London had always been the White House’s preferred partner in Europe. In Johnson, a Brexit campaigner, Trump saw a kind spirit. The expected dividend in London: a trade agreement in 2021.
The Biden administration does not intend to play along. “Boris Johnson needs a trade agreement to demonstrate the domestic utility of Brexit,” says the person familiar with the thinking of the president.
Biden’s team only promises to review chapters on trade deals agreed with the Trump administration to ensure it is “in line with Biden’s priorities,” the person said, “taking into account local factors.”
“The first task is to tidy up our home,” said James Clapper, director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama. Based on his interactions with the Biden transition team, Clapper said Britain’s help after Brexit “does not seem to me to be really high on their priority list at the moment.”
No trade agreement before 2022
It’s not hard to see why: The sheer number of domestic challenges Biden will face during his first hundred days will overshadow Britain’s efforts to reach a quick trade agreement within the same period.
“I would say the best case scenario for an agreement is 2022,” said Lewis Lukens, who has served as deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom under US Presidents Trump and Obama.
Kupchan agrees that London will have to wait until the second year of Biden’s squad is in place, given the lack of a clear Democratic majority in the Senate and a wafer-thin margin in the House. “There is an important discussion on broader economic issues, but not on bilateral trade,” he said.
Politically, it would be a major blow to the UK if a trade agreement could not be reached quickly, said one former British diplomat. But economically, it would hardly be noticed. The UK and US were each other’s biggest investors in 2018, but the proposed deal would only add about $ 10 billion to the combined GDP of $ 23 billion US and UK dollars.
Some leading politicians of Britain’s ruling Conservative party believe the deal is a diversion from the Atlantic. Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told POLITICO that he thinks the UK should focus on getting the UK and the US involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of 11 countries, including Japan, Canada and Australia, designed in part to counter China’s growing economic leverage.
The Obama administration helped negotiate an early version of the agreement before President Trump withdrew from it. “We need to work with the US on global regulatory reform, the price of carbon and the defense of the rules-based system against China,” Tugendhat added, saying what Biden’s transition team told POLITICO.
As the UK serves as G-7 president and hosts the annual UN climate conference in 2021, Democrats want to prioritize Covid-19’s climate change issues to global economic recovery before a trade deal.
The UK government is not prepared to talk about ‘Plan B’ for the deal, but a spokesman acknowledged the challenge ahead: ‘to reach a comprehensive deal that matches the depth of the trade relationship between the UK and the US, is more important than meeting any specific deadline. , ”The spokesperson said.
The timeline for a trade deal in 2021 is indeed frightening. USTR must notify Congress before April 1 of a pending agreement in order to be signed before the congress’s highway authority expires on July 1, the final formal negotiations between the United States and the United Kingdom on October 30 are further complicated, meaning that progress is limited to technical discussions during the transition. Meanwhile, it USTR political staff blocked meetings between the Biden transition team and career officials throughout December, which may be hampering Biden’s ability to start working immediately after his inauguration.
Speaking to Biden’s team, Britain is placing a trade deal as an economic recovery tool. “This agreement will support both our economies to build better from Covid-19,” said a British government spokesman, who described the talks as “at an advanced stage, with a significant part of the legal text.”
Several draft chapters of the agreement are close to final, according to negotiation documents seen by POLITICO, including texts on small and medium-sized enterprises, investment and digital services. But there are still significant differences, including pharmaceutical regulation, textiles and intellectual property.
Johnson’s historical miscalculation
In the opinion of many Democrats, Johnson put too much pressure on Trump. “The [U.K.] the government continued to believe that Trump would do favors for them and that has not yet been eliminated. “The trade agreement would take place within a few weeks, then months, and it is now four years later and it has not happened yet,” said a former US diplomat.
It was only after the US Trade Representative publishes his wish list for trade transactions in 2018 Johnson realized that there would be no favor from the Republicans. After Johnson’s team piled up its cabinet with relatively inexperienced Brexit supporters, with instructions to deliver Brexit above all else, they do not have the relations they need with a new Democratic government, the former diplomat said.
The British government maintains that this is an unfair reading of the situation. “From the outset, we have had a dual partnership with U.S. partners – at the federal and state levels,” a government spokesman said. British diplomats also say they have long had ties to Katherine Tai, Biden’s select for USTR.
So far, little is counted in the transition: Biden’s team is ‘hyper-disciplined’ because he was not involved with foreign officials before the inauguration, according to British officials and the Democrats who spoke to POLITICO.
Johnson and his allies may rather have to rely on President-elect Biden’s branding ability not to hold grudges.
So far, British officials have breathed a sigh of relief that Biden’s team is not buying in public sharp, public criticism former Obama administration officials said about Johnson.
But privately, Democrats regularly resent Johnson’s inflammatory rhetoric, including a racially charged description of President Barack Obama as America’s “Kenyan President” in 2016, and discussed the matter in talks with a range of British officials. Biden described Johnson himself at a fundraiser in 2019 as a physical and emotional clone of Trump.
Those close to Biden insist that ‘it’s not helpful to personalize things’, according to someone familiar with his thinking. “You have perfect couples in the form of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, or Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and then there are matings where the personalities do not work together, but make it work,” said the person and the likely Biden-Johnson describe. relationship.
While “there is not much heat,” a former U.S. ambassador admitted, the couple’s differences will be “honestly said, because the U.S. wants the UK to thrive.”
Paris prefers London
While President-elect Biden and his team respect Britain’s choice to leave the EU, Democrats still tend to view Brexit as a poorly executed policy.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken called Brexit a “Total mess“While Kupchan calls it” an act of self-isolation that will inevitably reduce Britain’s weight in the world “.
They also lament that Britain’s exit from the EU will make it more difficult to influence the unmanned club of 27 members. Britain’s public economy often acted as a counterweight to the protectionist instincts of France and Germany. “The US has lost its most effective EU member,” said a former senior U.S. diplomat. ‘Now life is getting more complicated for the USA. We have a confused coalition to deal with. ‘
Kupchan said Brexit was merely accelerating a trend since the end of the Cold War, in which Washington was in more direct dialogue with Paris and Berlin. Paris has the lead due to its defensive investments. “What will really irritate the UK is that we will now re-engage the EU as a vital partner, and it is fair to see France,” said a former US diplomat. “France is the one that still wants to be a global actor and have more ambition,” said Ellen Laipson, director of George Mason University. Center for Security Policy Studies.
Senior Democrats support Biden’s desire to prioritize better relations with the EU. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), A close ally of Biden, wants a trade agreement with the EU to take precedence over the UK agreement.. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee also called on the incoming government to renew trade negotiations with the EU.
Biden will continue to follow the British negotiations with the EU, especially on how peace arrangements are handled in Northern Ireland. “People are watching what happens, where it lands,” said someone familiar with the president’s thinking.
While the Biden team welcomes the UK Government’s new commitment to fully uphold the Good Friday Agreement, the person does not secure a bilateral trade agreement, which remains a ‘separate discussion’.
In other words, Britain will have to earn its trade deal.
“I think the ball is really in the British court,” said Lukens, the former ambassador. “Whether Boris and his team are capable of developing a worldview outside of Brexit remains to be seen.”
Nahal Toosi and Doug Palmer reported