10.06.2021 – 09:33
Boris Johnson and Joe Biden will meet very soon.
They will not have the raging tension and storm of a meeting between Ross Poldark and Demelza but this is an important relationship to watch as it unfolds.
The reasons why it can have a terrible start are very easy to count. Biden strongly supported Britain remaining in the EU; Johnson was the chief architect of Brexit.
Biden is probably the most “Irish” (I put it in inverted comma because many Americans in public life want to play their Irish roots even though they are very clear to Biden) of recent US presidents, and Friday’s Agreement Well sanctified for it and so he will make it clear to his British host that there can be no breach of Northern Ireland protocol if he jeopardizes that long-fought deal.
Boris Johnson clearly wants to get out of the binding agreement freely signed by the British to make Brexit which actually puts a trade barrier down the Irish Sea between the UK and the province.
In a pre-visit interview, Joe Biden’s national security adviser told me that Britain should not underestimate the strength of Biden’s feelings on the subject.
And then there’s the back story of two men Boris Johnson was seen by many in the US as Britain’s Donald Trump (certainly by Donald Trump himself) a bit chaotic, populist, unpredictable, a rabid instigator. And in return Boris Johnson was generous in his praises for the former business tycoon who invaded the White House he was making Great America again said the British Prime Minister; he was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in North Korea.
And no one would say that Joe Biden is as privileged as Boris Johnson. Somehow I can not imagine at all the new working class Joe from Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the white tie of the Bullingdon Club. In fact, Biden went so far as to describe Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump.
But equally, if you dive back into the manila file of yellowed newspaper clippings or just use your search engine you will find many disobedient comments from BoJo from when he was mayor of London, talking about Trump’s “dizzying ignorance” .
All of this leads to a clear point. That was then. It is now.
If we are talking about presidents and prime ministers who are not cut from the same cloth, you will have to say that David Cameron and Barack Obama were hardly soul mates, yet they established a close working relationship. To Cameron’s merit he was not obsessed and worried about special relationships in the way some others have done. Remember Gordon Brown following Barack Obama through a kitchen in the UN so desperate was he the one who would face the American president?
If you are the British Prime Minister, do your business to continue with whoever the US President-elect is. In the days after the 2020 presidential election when Donald Trump insisted it was all a hoax and he would overturn the result, the Johnson government was too quick to notice that Joe Biden was the rightful winner and was properly praised by the British. Some countries have wanted to do the same, for fear of angering Donald Trump.
In some of the biggest ticket items the world faces, Biden and Johnson are completely online. Perhaps most importantly, on climate change and the upcoming COP26 conference on UN climate change being held in Glasgow in November but also on issues of national security, defense cooperation and intelligence sharing, Britain and the US are very close.
Go back in history, and few would have imagined that after the apparent brawl between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, with all their windy rhetoric about Third Way (I really can’t decide if the idea deserves capital letters or do not leave them there for now), that the British Prime Minister would have passed so effortlessly in establishing such a close relationship with George Bush of course many then criticized Blair for becoming too close to Bill Clinton’s successor.
I think the only relationship where there was lasting damage came when Bill Clinton was elected president and John Major was prime minister. Major’s efforts to help George W. Bush win re-election by allowing the State Department to see if there was any “dirt” on Bill Clinton since he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford was a big mistake, and probably had a lasting impact .
It is hard to believe that Biden and Johnson would be a recreation of Thatcher and Reagan relationship or going back, Churchill and FDR Churchill during a scary field in 1940 would talk about recognizing and cultivating the American leader, finding endless ways to capture his attention and critical support to bring the US into World War II.
Last week, I spoke with Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, and joked about special relations. Remember that this is something that the British political class talks about much more than the Americans.
But Rhodes stressed that there is such a similarity of interest, so many common values, that when you sit down with the British to discuss major issues, you undoubtedly find yourself starting from the same point. How you get to the last point may vary, but being in tune is a good start to the relationship between Joe Biden and Boris Johnson. In most things they are.
And with Britain creating a post-Brexit future that is very important.
One thing both men have in common is that both men are Roman Catholics even though one is a practicing Roman Catholic; the other needs much more practice.
Translated and adapted by bbc / FH, Konica.al