“Boris Johnson has already pointed a gun at head and told the European Union, ‘I’ll shoot’, with No Deal on 31 December. Now it appears he is doing the same with a Biden Administration.”
UPDATE, NOV. 20:
The University of Birmingham’s David Dunn speaks with US News and World Report about the relationship between the UK’s Johnson Government and the incoming Biden Administration.
He says of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President-elect Joe Biden, “It’s easy to over-emphasize personal differences. That said, it doesn’t help.”
Then he gets to the core issue: “What’s different is Brexit, and Brexit makes a huge difference in a number of ways. None of them is positive, in the US view.”
Even if Johnson backs off a No Deal Brexit, Dunn says:
[The US] won’t be falling over itself to do a trade deal with Britain first. The UK won’t be seen as a constituency that needs to be tended to, compared to the EU….
Britain could smooth relations on both ends. Now it is effectively cut off from that role, and that’s a big loss.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Amid the drama from polls to courtrooms to Twitter around the US elections — Will Donald Trump barricade himself inside the White House? Will a Biden Administration take office on January 20? — there is one certainty.
The outcome makes no difference to the cold reality that the British Government, heading for a No Deal Brexit, will not get the salvation of a UK-US trade deal in the near-future.
This is one case where looking first at Washington is a distraction. The decision is in the hands of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his inner circle.
Do they back away from their illegal breaking of the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union, a shift putting the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in jeopardy? Or do they persist past the December 31 deadline, burying the Holy Grail of the trade agreement with the US?
“The Good Friday Agreement is Treasured”
The message to the UK Government, then led by Prime Minister Theresa May, from the US Congressional delegation in April 2019 could not have been more direct.
Speaking in the Irish Dail in Dublin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Let me be clear, if the Brexit deal undermines the Good Friday Accord, there will be no chance of a US-UK trade agreement.”
Rep. Richard Neal, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, echoed the message as he stood alongside Pelosi on the border between Ireland’s Donegal and Northern Ireland’s Derry. So did the rest of the delegation — Democrats and Republicans.
Boris Johnson was outside the Government at that point. With the support of Donald Trump’s advisors, he was implementing his plan to replace May in 10 Downing Street.
So in case he had missed or forgotten the message, Pelosi reminded him on September 10:
The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland and an inspiration for the whole world.
Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
The UK must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.
If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress. The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.
Three days earlier, the Johnson Government said a UK Internal Market Bill would set aside provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the customs line “down the Irish Sea” between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
That line had been essential for Johnson and the EU to reach an accord, as it removed the prospect of a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
However, Johnson had signalled in his campaign for the December 2019 General Election that he did not recognize the line, falsely claiming that it was not in the Withdrawal Agreement. Now he was ready to flout it by breaking international law.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in the House of Commons on September 8 that the Government’s bill was illegal in a “specific and limited way”. The Permanent Secretary to the Government’s Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, resigned.
Johnson Ignores Biden’s Warning
On September 16, backing a bipartisan letter from senior House legislators to Johnson, Joe Biden tweeted:
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.
Johnson ignored the warning. And he continued to do so in his first statement on Biden’s victory, even as he walked back his previous declarations of a quick trade agreement:
On the trade deal with the US, I’m a keen student of the United States’ trade policy and they’re tough negotiators.
And I’ve never believed that this was going to be something that was going to be a complete pushover under any US administration.
Even without Johnson’s self-imposed impediment of the Internal Market Bill, any US-UK trade agreement was going to take years, far from the immediate salvation proclaimed by the Prime Minister. Canada’s deal with the European Union required seven years, and it still has only been provisionally applied.
US-UK preliminary negotiations have been limited, and even they have been beset by American demands to open British markets and lift health and safety regulations, including in agriculture, the pharmaceutical industry, and ancillary businesses for the National Health Service.
But Johnson has already pointed a gun at his head and told the European Union, “I’ll shoot”, with No Deal on 31 December. Now it appears he is doing the same with a Biden Administration backed by both parties in Congress.
He appears not to realize that they will let him pull the trigger.