Boris Johnson will fly to New York this weekend for his first overseas trip since the Covid pandemic, hoping to cement his relationship with United States President Joe Biden after a hectic summer marked by the chaotic bridge. Kabul aerial.
Two years ago, when Johnson made his first overseas trip as prime minister to the Biarritz G7 summit, the hope was that Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for the man he called “Britain’s Trump” would help pave the way for a swift post-Brexit trade deal with the United States.
On the way to France, he bombarded journalists with products that UK exporters could more easily sell to the US If a deal were to be struck, from pork cakes to shower trays.
Expectations of a quick profit in trading have long faded. But encouraged by the signing this week of Aukus’ cooperation agreement with the US and Australia, Johnson hopes to show that despite Biden’s well-documented caution and the drama unleashed by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the couple can work together where the two countries’ align strategic priorities.
He will take with him the new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, an outspoken Atlanticist and, like Biden, a hawk of China, although her close ties to American free-market think tanks mean that her domestic politics is dramatically different from that of the US. American president.
Leslie Vinjamuri, program director for the US and the Americas at the Chatham House think tank, said: “As Boris Johnson crosses over, he clearly has to decide, and it seems he has decided, to play to the positive agenda, be strategic and include the UK in the game. “
The trip comes after what can best be described as a bumpy summer between Downing Street and the White House. On the one hand, there was the chaotic last-minute withdrawal from Afghanistan, a decision made unilaterally by Biden and openly criticized by British ministers and generals after the Taliban stormed Kabul.
During the operation there were constant complaints from British sources that they were not kept informed of the tactical intentions of the United States, when, in particular, Biden could give the final order to withdraw from the airport.
Meanwhile, US sources complained that the airport gate where an ISKP bomb hit and killed nearly 200 people, including 13 US Marines, had been kept open longer than they had wanted at the request of the British, leading to to London to insist that it was “a joint decision”.
In the wake of the debacle, Conservative MPs lamented what they saw as a disastrous deterioration in transatlantic relations.
Meanwhile, however, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia were continuing negotiations that had begun in the spring, initially following a request from Canberra to London to share highly sensitive submarine nuclear propulsion technology.
They took a significant step forward at the G7 summit in Cornwall as they morphed into a broader discussion of a three-country defense pact clearly aimed at an increasingly assertive China.
Johnson was credited this week by US officials for playing the crucial role of broker: “Britain helped mediate and explain all the critical issues,” said a US administration official, and invited Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the meeting. of major western countries in June when the pandemic subsided.
Then the British prime minister appeared unexpectedly at what was expected to be a bilateral meeting between Morrison and Biden, prompting criticism of Morrison in Australia. But once the photographers left the room, the three of them discussed the main points of what became the Aukus deal. The deal, in principle, was sealed.
The contrast between Aukus’ aspiration and the reality of Afghanistan does not go unnoticed by high-level British sources. “What this shows is that when it comes to China, the White House fully supports it. What remains to be seen is whether you will get that full support when it comes to Europe and the Middle East, ”said one insider, who is still not sure how robust Biden will be in dealing with Russia and Islamist terrorism.
British officials are relieved that the defense technology pact sets a different backdrop for the relationship: Amid the ministerial shakeup, in which he had sidelined his foreign secretary, Johnson broke off to join a virtual press conference of three leaders at 10pm UK. Wednesday time to announce the pact, where Biden spoke effusively about how the three countries “have long been faithful and capable partners” during a century of wars around the world.
The only note of concern, perhaps, was that Biden, who is still said to be irritated by Johnson’s misjudged “partially Kenyan” mockery directed at former President Barack Obama, seemed noticeably warmer to Morrison than Johnson at the event: “Thank you Boris,” he began. “And I want to thank that guy downstairs. Thank you very much, friend. I appreciate it, Mr. Prime Minister.”
But whatever the precise personal chemistry, for the Americans one prize remains: to rally distant allies in a greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific and to be prepared to take on China.
The Aukus deal, a US official said, was designed to align Britain “more closely with our strategic activities in the region as a whole” and by allowing Britain to help build Australian nuclear submarines amounted to “a down payment” specifically in Johnson’s position. -The Brexit idea of Global Britain.
For some, that raises questions about what precisely Johnson might have promised Biden in Cornwall, as he seeks to demonstrate that he can chart a diplomatic path outside the European Union, a point that his predecessor Theresa May does not miss, as he asked on Thursday if the UK would be attracted, “if China tries to invade Taiwan.” At the height of the success of announcing the alliance, Johnson had little choice in his response: he ruled out nothing.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy welcomed the Aukus pact, while emphasizing that it should not undermine the UK’s commitment to other alliances, including, crucially, NATO.
With the COP26 summit looming in a few weeks, he said Johnson should work hard to build cooperation with the US on a much broader range of issues, including fighting the climate crisis and advocating. of democracy around the world; Biden sees the latest. as a key theme of his presidency.
“There is a much more positive agenda and I think the United States will respond really well if we present a positive vision of how we can work together to address shared challenges,” Nandy said.
“I think the relationship is worn out; but there is a very strong will from the United States to seek a strong partnership with the United Kingdom. “
Vinjamuri said that in the wake of the Aukus deal, “Biden is doing what he said he was going to do, and the UK had to make a decision, which was either you get on board and show what you can bring in, or you don’t. And it seems that Boris Johnson has decided to get on board. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism