What a Joe Biden presidency means for a UK-US trade deal

Joe Biden said he would have voted remain in the EU referendum. Credit: AP
  • Words by ITV News multimedia producer Charlie Bayliss

With Joe Biden topping the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory in the US presidential election, focus is shifting to what priorities the winner will have during their four years in power at the White House.

Questions are being asked about what a win for the Democratic nominee could mean for a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal.

Donald Trump has talked up a free trade deal between the two countries, claiming the “special relationship” fostered between the UK and the US for more than half a century would put Britain firmly at the “front of the queue”.

But will Joe Biden declared president-elect, what impact would his presidency have on US-UK trade talks?

Joe Biden’s recent Brexit intervention

The US Democratic presidential race winner warned Boris Johnson that the UK must honour the Good Friday Agreement or there will be no separate trade deal with the US.

The Good Friday Agreement was reached in 1998 and helped bring to an end the period of conflict in Northern Ireland called the Troubles.

The UK government’s proposed Internal Market Bill threatens to break the Northern Ireland protocol, which could lead to the imposition of a physical customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Politicians in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have spoken out against a reintroduction of borders, fearing a return to the dark days of the Troubles.

The international law-breaking bill has angered those in Brussels and America too.

Biden, a proud Catholic Irish-American, tweeted in September: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

His comments echo Nancy Pelosi, US Speaker of the House, who said there is "no chance" a UK-US trade deal would pass through the US Congress if the UK violates international agreements and undermines the Good Friday Agreement.

Senior UK government figures have sought to allay fears from both the EU and the US.

Mr Johnson said: "I think when they understand what we are trying to do they will share our ambition and concern which is to protect the peace process."

What has Biden previously said about Brexit?

Just a day after the 2016 referendum, the then vice-president Joe Biden admitted he would have “preferred a different outcome".

On a visit to Ireland, Biden said: “As long-standing friends of the United Kingdom, the United States respects their decision.” It’s “not how we would have preferred it to be, but [we] respect their position.”

Biden has not been afraid to give his opinions on Brexit since leaving the Oval Office in 2016.

Joe Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama for eight years. Credit: AP

Speaking at a Chatham House talk in October 2018, Mr Biden spoke about how US interests in the UK had “diminished” following Brexit.

He even went so far as admitting had he been able to vote, he would have voted remain.

“Had I been a member of parliament, had I been a British citizen, I would have voted against leaving,” he said.

“From the US perspective, US interests are diminished with Great Britain not being an integral part of Europe and being able to bring influence.

“There’s growing awareness that Britain played a role in Europe the last 30 years that went well beyond the notion of open borders and trade, being able to influence attitudes.”

He referenced the UK and US’s “special relationship”, but hinted it could decline after Brexit.

“There is a special relationship - we’ve been locked cheek to jowl on almost every important issue. Without England being totally integrated, to the extent that it’s distant, diminishes our ability to have influence on events on the continent,” he added.

What has Trump said about Brexit in the past?

On the same day as Joe Biden admitted he would have preferred a “different outcome” to the EU referendum, Donald Trump spoke glowingly about how it was a “great… fantastic thing” for the UK.

At the reopening of the Trump Turnberry golf course in Scotland, the US presidential hopeful said: “I think it's a great thing that's happened. It's an amazing vote, very historic.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Muskegon County Airport Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

"People are angry all over the world. They're angry over borders, they're angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are.

"They're angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places. This will not be the last."

That rhetoric has largely remained throughout his presidency, with the Republican highlighting his Scottish ancestral roots from his mother’s sides and speaking about his admiration for Winston Churchill.

However the possibility of a UK-US trade deal runs parallel with Trump’s “America First” trade policy, which seemingly seeks to ensure the US maintains the upper hand in negotiations with foreign countries.

Trump has been critical of the UK’s handling of Brexit in the past.

Trump wasn't afraid to criticise Theresa May's Brexit deal. Credit: AP

The US President was highly critical of the then prime minister Theresa May, suggesting her Brexit agreement "sounds like a great deal for the EU" and meant the UK might not be able to trade with the US.

Trump hasn’t been afraid of providing a running commentary of negotiations in the past, promising to deliver a “magnificent” US-UK trade deal when he met with Boris Johnson in September 2019.

What do the experts say?

A key negotiator involved in securing the EU-Canada trade deal - something which Boris Johnson himself has heralded as the gold standard for a UK-EU trade deal - told ITV News the UK will likely fall down America’s priority list should Biden win.

Jason Langrish, executive director of the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, said: "I suspect Biden would pursue a similar policy. He would likely see a deal with the EU and resetting relations with China as being higher priorities.

"I suspect Biden would spend the first year or two re-instating the US in international bodies, including its presence at the WTO."

However Mr Langrish warned that Trump's re-election may not be good news for the UK either.

He warned: "I personally don’t feel that the Trump administration will deliver a deal to the UK anytime soon if re-elected. He is very America first, so I’m not sure what he would be willing to offer would be what the UK thinks it can get.

Trump and Biden clashed on coronavirus and domestic policy during their first presidential debate in September. Credit: AP

"What is ironic about Brexit is it’s being positioned by the Johnson government as a way for the UK to reclaim its own trade policy at a time when liberalised trade is not in vogue."

Dr Michelle Bentley, a reader of international relations and Director, Centre for International Security at Royal Holloway University, said the UK’s Internal Market Bill has highlighted the fragility of relations between Biden and the UK government.

However she does believe a trade deal is there to be agreed upon with Biden - just perhaps not the one the UK wants.

“Biden has talked about applying qualifications to trade deals that align with his values, such as on human rights,’ she said.

“So the UK will still get a deal, but Biden may ask the British government to agree to conditions relating to Brexit that it does not like – such as protecting Ireland.

“Biden is a big fan of the EU and other European countries like Germany. And his running mate Kamala Harris has always been more interested in other areas of the globe such as Japan.

“Biden may want to do deals with those partners first and so the UK would find itself very low down the pecking order in terms of trade agreements.”

When it comes to securing a trade deal with Trump if he secures another four years, Dr Bentley said the Internal Market Bill could have a detrimental impact on talks.

She said: “President Donald Trump has always been seen as the pro-Brexit and pro-Johnson option. But it’s worth noting that the Trump administration isn’t happy about the Ireland situation either.

Johnson hopes to secure a trade deal with the US - he won't know until after the election whether he'll be negotiating with Biden or Trump. Credit: PA

“While Trump has been supportive of Brexit, this may be a step too far. While he’s seen as the more sympathetic option, this may have implications for a trade deal – ones that don’t stack up well for the UK.”

The sentiment that the UK will fall down the pecking order is a feeling shared with US trade experts too.

Hoyt Bleakley, a professor in economics and the University of Michigan, told ITV News: “I view talk on trade by President Trump as mostly bluster.

“For example, Trump described our previous regional free trade agreement between Canada, the US, and Mexico as disastrous and ‘the worst deal ever’. Yet the replacement agreement came back remarkably similar. I would expect a Trump/Johnson trade deal to be similarly superficial for the most part.”

“My guess is that a Biden administration would be more focused on London‘s stewardship over various tax havens.

“Geography makes a trade deal with North America a poor substitute for one with Europe anyway.”

Watch Trump vs Biden: The Results on Tuesday 3rd November from 11pm on ITV