On Monday, Michel Barnier was back in London to resume Brexit negotiations with his British counterpart, David Frost, over which looms the deadline of December 31 and the specter of no-deal.
The problems on the table are still the same: the risk of a physical border in Northern Ireland, “fair” commercial competitiveness between the parties that have completed their divorce and the fishing quotas in the North Sea.
So far, Downing Street has continued the tactic of negotiating by threatening to leave the negotiations, and will predictably continue to do so. But with a new tenant in the White House, the balance of negotiations has obviously shifted.
It becomes unavoidable to ask oneself what the advent of Joe Biden at the leadership of the United States will mean for the United Kingdom of the bungling Johnson, and for Atlanticism in general, effectively symbolized by that ethereal “special relationship” between the North American continent and the little island that was—once upon a time, but not too long ago—the top dog in Europe.
Especially when, in spite of all the nice words, the affinity between the two countries is particularly manifested today as a catastrophic lack of unity. Given that he has the psychological age of a child, Donald Trump will not leave the playroom without tearing as much of it apart as possible.
But now that the Oval Office will be emptied of his rampant lawlessness and will welcome the coveted “normality” of the Biden the establishment man, Johnson—who is more dissimilar than similar to Trump, mind you—must hastily change course.
“Boris” had already officially congratulated Biden on Saturday, before Trump (refused to) admit defeat, in a move that was basically tantamount to throwing him under the bus, perfectly in line with the proverbial rats abandoning the sinking ship.
But this is certainly not a gesture that can compensate for the many times when he was eager to dance with the “populist” currently barricaded in the White House and yelling about electoral fraud.
The problems between Biden and Johnson are many. Aside from the differences in personality and culture—the first a rich Irish middle-class Catholic, the second an aristocratic imperialist Anglican—and Johnson’s casual racism in the past, who spoke about the “Kenyan origins” of the then President Obama, blaming him for having removed a bust of Churchill from the Oval Office when Biden was his VP, Johnson is facing a delicate time: he is unable to accelerate towards a no-deal in the negotiations on Brexit.
On the contrary, he is under pressure to revise the internal market law currently under discussion at the House of Lords—which would allow Britain to violate the agreements with the EU and introduce a physical boundary between “the two Irelands,” reigniting the civil war overcome by the Good Friday Agreement. Because it is easy to predict that it will be disliked by the Irish Catholic Biden.
The US and the UK, the two main market societies in the West, are also the ones that reacted the worst to the tremors of the post-2008 Great Depression: one by electing a famous, bipolar (not in the political sense) bankrupt celebrity as its leader, the other one breaking away from the European Union after having successfully served reheated autarchic-imperialist ideology to its own citizens.
Both are expressing a form of “Anglo-Saxon” neo-isolationism, through which capitalism aims to overcome the neoliberal impasse. Of course, they are also the scene of the attempt to maintain a white and androcentric supremacy over the world, disguised as a canonical class struggle: an expedient through which the radical right steals ground from the inflexible center using part of the ideological weaponry of the radical left.
Biden’s election represents a corrective attempt to redress this tendency. Biden is a “classic” politician who comes after the pseudo-anti-political Trump, who will try to set the clock back four years—naturally, to no avail. Not least because it was a miracle he won. But for Johnson, whose incompetence has become particularly visible in the pandemic, the music has changed anyway.