Weeks before the UK finally leaves the EU on December 31, the election of Joe Biden raises two linked issues before Boris Johnson, the British prime minister the US president-elect has never met in person.
Biden has met and worked with all British prime ministers since Margaret Thatcher, but has not exactly had laudatory views of the current incumbent in Downing Street, who he described in December as “a physical and emotional clone of Trump”.
Proud of his Irish origins, Biden has made known his opposition to the UK leaving the EU. During the election campaign, Biden warned that he would not accept any deal that imperilled the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland; a position reiterated by his team soon after his election was apparent.
The agreement, which is credited with ending most of the violence in the trouble-torn constituent of the UK, is considered to be at risk after the Johnson government piloted the controversial Internal Markets Bill in parliament, which, if it becomes law, would enable London to violate parts of the withdrawal agreement reached with Brussels.
The bill has been passed in the House of Commons and is due to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday. Johnson and his ministers have insisted that the bill’s provisions are necessary as a safety valve in post-Brexit dealings with the EU.
The second issue Biden’s win raises is a future free trade agreement with the US, one of the UK’s largest export markets. Biden was the vice-president when President Barack Obama came to London in 2016 and said Brexit would put the UK “back of queue” for trade talks.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday that Johnson should see the writing on the wall that he would not get the trade deal with the US if the Good Friday Agreement is imperilled through the provisions of the Internal Market Bill.
The UK and US have what is long categorised as a “special relationship”, with close ties in areas of defence, intelligence and counter-terrorism. For the US, the UK also had a special role due its membership of the EU, but Brexit means it will no longer be able to leverage it to the US’ benefit.
Johnson and other British leaders congratulated Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, with the prime minister tweeting: “The US is our important ally and I look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities, from climate change to trade and security.”