The latest round of negotiations ended, quite predictably, with no result. And with the EU ruling out the possibility of a special Brexit summit in November (in fact, basically ruling out any kinds of in-person summits for the nearby future), the chances for a no deal at end of the transition period are rising (again). The doors barely closed behind the negotiators when Boris Johnson declared that the UK was now going to start planning for January 1 with an “Australia” scenario. (Meaning no deal.) Later, he added that the EU was welcome for further talks but only if “there is fundamental change of approach”. A few hours later UK chief negotiator David Frost agreed with Michel Barnier to talk again this week. Fingers crossed, as they say.
The UK hopes that it will be able to get better deals or to cooperate on better terms with the rest of the world without all the strings from Brussels. Hence the insistence bordering stubbornness to reach a Canada style deal.
Expectations regarding the evolution of the “special relationship” with the US are even higher.
Whether it will be Trump again or Biden and the Democrats back in the White House, the “special relationship” will most likely be different from the one envisioned by Sir Winston Churchill between the two “English-speaking” nations. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W. Bush had truly strong partnership, not often seen among world leaders (a notable exception might be the partnership between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former US President Barack Obama).
And personal relationships do help, even in cases where policy interests align. But as of now, no such relationship exists between Boris Johnson and neither Donald Trump, nor Joe Biden. And building these kinds of relationships, based on mutual respect, common ideas and a lot of common work is never easy. It will take years before something will develop, if it will ever. No matter how many times Donald Trump actually called Boris Johnson “his friend”, no matter they share a mutual dislike for the EU, they hardly ever worked truly together to achieve a common goal. They have differing opinions on China, Iran or climate change. It is a tough question to answer, how exactly this “special relationship” will look like during a second Trump-term. And not only due to the unpredictability of Trump administration. Brits are not very fond of Donald Trump, either. And there is a growing mistrust against the ever-self-isolating US, even if more than half of the population considers the US an important ally. Despite Brexit, many in the UK would like to have close ties with Europe, too. They are still on this side of the ocean, anyways.
And when it comes to Joe Biden… well, just a few days ago he was boasting about his Irish heritage. And he’s also a supporter for multilateralism and wasn’t quite satisfied with Brexit happening at all. By the way, he also called Johnson a “Trump-clone”.
Security cooperation will surely remain an important issue, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. But the extent to which this cooperation can develop, is questionable. According to a research published this summer on yougov.co.uk, the majority of Brits think the country shouldn’t accept lower quality food imports in return for a trade deal with the United States. Actually, only less than ten percent of adults said that any of the potential changes were acceptable. But this is a main issue when it comes to negotiations with the US, and Boris Johnson might easily find himself in a similar situation with chlorinated chicken, as he is in with fisheries. Namely, he can’t step a step backwards without risking strong domestic condemnation. The same goes to dairy products treated with antibiotics, or vegetables grown with pesticides illegal in the EU.
Thus, the best thing to show the extent of the “special relationship”, a new free trade agreement is not likely to come for many months. Trump and his negotiating team will staunchly defend the rights of American farmers (America first, you know). They do exactly what the UK does during the Brexit rounds.
But if no one is willing to take a step backwards, no one is going anywhere. The question arises naturally: why me? Why should London be the first to back away from some of its demands? Well, as a sign of goodwill, for starters. And also, because it is not the EU that wanted to change the status quo. The status quo that was negotiated through fierce battles with Margaret “I want my money back” Thatcher.
The UK should aim for a deal to end its EU membership with grace. Not only because it will minimize the “shock” of being freed from the hands of Brussels, but also because it would show the rest of the world that the UK is a partner worth negotiating with. The UK may be a special partner to the US, but so is Germany, Japan, Israel or even Poland. A UK that has no word in Europe might not be that important, after all.