Will the post-Brexit U.K. choose the U.S. as its main ally? Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be making the case.
After 1,317 days of political turmoil and heated negotiation, Brexit has finally happened. But the saga doesn’t end, as the U.K. has entered an 11-month transition period to negotiate its future relationships with the EU. And while there’s no confidence the period won’t last for a few years, Boris Johnson promised for it not to be extended as he just wants to “get Brexit done.” After three and a half years of waiting, we can’t blame him for that.
Meanwhile, Britons have been split in two, with the majority now believing Brexit to be one fat mistake. With the current government in power, there’s definitely no way to glue the broken nation back together.
For that, the U.K. now desperately needs to make some new powerful friends. It seems like the U.S. is their number one choice on the list.
According to biographer Andrew Gimson, Boris Johnson’s secret ambition as a boy was “to be President of the United States.” In his recent role as British PM, he seems to be willing to get as close to the U.S. as possible.
Before the referendum in 2016, Johnson predicted that the sovereign U.K. would be “even better and more valuable allies of the U.S.”
The country’s relationship with America has long been described as “special.” As U.K. Trade Secretary Liam Fox said in 2018, Brexit provides a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise it to a new level.”
On the night Johnson won the general election and decided the fate of Brexit, President Trump tweeted about the prospects of a U.S.-U.K. trade pact:
Many optimists believe the Johnson-Trump bromance guarantees the much-awaited closeness between the countries.
On Feb. 3, Johnson said he can’t wait to “get going with our friends” in the U.S. on a trade deal, attacking those who have warned against it.
Speaking to an audience that included the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson, he added:
And I say to all the naïve and juvenile anti-Americans in this country if there are any – there seem to be some — I say grow up – and get a grip.
For the U.S., a U.K. trade deal offers a chance to strengthen commercial ties with a country that has long been seen as a like-minded gateway to Europe.
It’s also an opportunity to respond to a rapid expansion of the EU’s trade agreements, which have broadened the region’s influence on the rules governing the flows of everything from cars to data into new frontiers across the globe.
Both Johnson and Trump have signaled their desire to do a deal quickly. If things were only that easy.
Now that Britain is actually leaving the EU, it finds itself at loggerheads with America on several matters.
One of those is the U.K.’s digital-services tax that would severely hit American tech giants. The U.S. described this tax as arbitrary and threatened the U.K. with punitive tariffs on British car exports.
Moreover, Johnson has given the green light for Huawei to build part of the U.K.’s next-generation 5G cellular network. American lobbyists have been urging the U.K. that this maneuver could leave both countries’ intelligence-sharing at risk.
There are more disagreements in the picture: trade wars, Iran, Prince Andrew’s investigation and the requested extradition of the wife of an American diplomat who killed a British teenager. Let’s not forget about speculation that the U.S. is flooding British markets with food products that have a lower hygiene standard.
Regardless of how much Johnson wants to partner with Trump, there are many questions that can’t be ignored.
Any post-Brexit trade agreement with the U.S. was always going to be hard.
Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that an agreement is still in the “interest of both governments on a macro level.” But there are also “a lot of things in the bilateral relationship that are going to make it more complicated.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t set any timeline on a possible deal. He cautioned that the talks might get rather testy.
In an interview on LBC radio last week, Pompeo said:
Sure, it’ll be complicated. And there’ll be places that will be very contentious. Both negotiating teams will want to preserve things for their own country.
There is still no formal date for the beginning of bilateral trade talks. Regardless of intentions, a comprehensive trade pact depends on two factors: the results of the Brexit negotiations and the 2020 U.S. election.
For now, U.S. officials are likely to pass on closing any meaningful deals with London – at least, until the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU are clear. At this time, it’s unclear whether this new trans-Atlantic trade alliance ever happen.