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A Joe Biden White House will have little time and less love for ‘Britain’s Trump’

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25.10.2020

When the long race for the White House ends, another begins: the sprint to be the first European leader to be granted an audience by the new US president. In 2016, Theresa May was distraught to have got a wooden spoon in the competition to put in an early congratulatory telephone call to Trump Tower. That made her even more neuralgic about beating a path to Washington ahead of her European rivals. Mrs May had to throw in the promise of a Trump state visit to the UK – I rather rudely called it “pimping out the Queen” – to ensure that she got to the White House first.

This desperation can make British prime ministers look pathetically needy, but there is a reason why they set so much store by displays of proximity with the Oval Office. How important a prime minister is to the United States, the planet’s largest economy and most potent military force, sends a message about how much influence the UK wields in the world. So it is telling that Number 10 is resigned to the prospect that Boris Johnson will not be the first name on Joe Biden’s call sheet if he becomes the 46th president. Nor is there any expectation that Mr Johnson will be first in line when they hand out invitations to the White House. He has already quit a race UK prime ministers are usually pretty good at winning.

“There is an intrinsic problem for Boris,” observes Sir Christopher Meyer, the UK’s ambassador in Washington during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W Bush. “The Democrats think Boris is a pea from the same pod as Trump.” Being “Britain’s Trump” goes down almost as poisonously as being Trump himself among many in Team Biden. They are bracketed together in the minds of Democrats not just because both are rule-breaking populists who have polarised their countries and trashed historic alliances. Likely members of a Biden administration remember examples of the Tory leader’s insultingly Trumpian behaviour. Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security adviser when Mr Biden was vice-president to Barack Obama, has remarked: “I’m old enough to remember when Boris Johnson said Obama opposed Brexit because he was Kenyan.” A more recent inflammatory episode exposed a complete absence of thought in Number 10 about the man whom the polls suggest will be the next US president.

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© The Guardian


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