Ben Roback: China. Under Trump, a threat. Under Biden, a competitor. The President’s speech at the Munich Security Conference.

24 Feb

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Joe Biden’s speech for this year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) was probably an easy one to write.

“Don’t be like the previous guy” will have been the simple steer given in advance. And in just his third paragraph, the president delivered that message: “Two years ago, as you pointed out, when I last spoke at Munich, I was a private citizen; I was a professor, not an elected official. But I said at that time, “We will be back.” And I’m a man of my word. America is back.”

Turning the page on Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy in rhetorical terms was hardly a surprise. Joe Biden has been an internationalist and a multilateralist throughout his political career, and so the recent brief chapter in which the White House was sympathetic to autocratic strongmen was slammed shut.

An immediate return to the Paris Climate accord and a U-turn on the US approach to the European Union – once again a key strategic ally – mark further divergence, although it is reasonable to expect Biden to retain the pressure applied by Trump on European countries to spend more on defence.

Biden also marks a difference on Iran. He retains a hawkish view, like his predecessor – although in this speech he reinforced his “willingness to re-engage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program” while addressin “destabilising activities across the Middle East”. Concurrently at the MSC, Boris Johnson referred to Iran as one of “the most pressing security issues”.

“I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship”

The MSC is hardly a lynchpin in the political calendar in the same way as the presidential inauguration or a State of the Union address. On that basis, with domestic America hardly tuned it, the President spoke to European allies to whom he felt the Trump administration had given the cold shoulder.

There was a reminder of a recent order to halt the withdrawal of American troops from Germany, and a lifting of the cap imposed by the previous administration on the number of U.S. forces that can be based there.

For the United Kingdom, there was perhaps a curious absence. Biden quickly cantered through a reference about the importance of democracy and the need to “fight for it, strengthen it, renew it”, but did not mention the Government’s proposal to create a “D-10”.

In Boris Johnson’s speech, the Prime Minister confirmed he has invited South Korea, and Australia and India to attend the next G7 summit as guests. This chimes perfectly with Biden’s proposal to host a ‘Summit of Democracy’, which is likely to include the three nations mentioned above.

Making the case for democracies around the world is expected to be a core pillar of US-UK foreign policy, alongside a shared approach to China and increased military spending. As proof of the latter, UK carriers will be deployed to the Indo-Pacific and will be fully integrated with the US Marines.

A pivot away from the pivot to Asia?

Whilst Biden is a known internationalist, the world has changed around him. Trump left the Oval Office with Sino-scepticism seemingly a part of the White House furniture. And yet, the 46th president struck a softer tone that would have been unconscionable for the 45th, referring in his speech to building democratic allegiances in order to “prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China”.

As well as seeking to lower the political temperature at home, this was a speech by Joe Biden that perhaps looked to do the same in the Asia Pacific area. Biden spoke about the need to “push back against the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system.” The politics of economics, not conflict.

Barack Obama initiated the ‘Pivot to Asia’ – a political and diplomatic shift towards the Asia Pacific.  Biden’s first foreign policy foray may have indicated a pivot back – three mentions of China, compared to seven of Russia. Time will tell whether that was accidental or by design. Perhaps it was a mere reminder to the world that America would revert to a much firmer stance on Russia than we had become used to with Trump in the White House.

The tonality was stark. Whilst China was a mere “competitor”, Russia was described as a “threat”. Here, no punches were pulled. “The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponises corruption to try to undermine our system of governance…Putin seeks to weaken European — the European project and our NATO Alliance.” Even more words that it was impossible to think Trump would ever have deployed.

Republicans have tried to label Biden as a “radical” in every respect – immigration policy, climate change, Cabinet nominees, the pricey Covid relief package. But on foreign policy, Biden’s first major intervention appeared anything but radical. Russia was painted a familiar threat, but Johnson went much further in explicitly calling out the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny. China was reframed from a direct threat (Trump) to a mere strategic competitor (Biden). President Biden’s MSC speech was far from radical. If anything risked being disappointingly tame.

Daniel Hannan: Ignore the Europhile sneers. Joining the Pacific bloc marks the rebirth of Global Britain.

3 Feb

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

She’s unstoppable, that Liz Truss. The epidemic has put most Whitehall ministries in damage limitation mode, but the Department of International Trade is on a roll, signing 62 free trade agreements to date – plus, obviously, the deal with the EU itself.

Those who can’t bear the thought of Brexit succeeding are, naturally, scoffing. These deals, they say, are largely replicas of what we already had as EU members. Their new line of criticism is, I suppose, an improvement on the position that they took until 12 months ago, namely that we would barely be able to strike any deals at all.

But it’s still not true. Many of the “rollover” treaties go further in small ways: more generous quotas, fewer restrictions. True, these liberalisations are chiefly tokens of intent. But that intent is real. With limited capacity, our priority has been to negotiate new FTAs – that is FTAs with countries where the EU currently has no trade deals, such as Australia and the United States.

Where there are serviceable existing arrangements, we have tended to say, in effect: “Let’s leave things roughly as they are for now, and agree to come back to it next year”. Even in these cases, though, we have often taken the opportunity to go further. The UK-Japan deal, for example, is more comprehensive when it comes to services and cross-border data flows than the EU-Japan deal, even though the latter had only just entered into effect.

This week, Britain took a momentous step when it applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade zone comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Again, many Europhiles are sneering. Joining a Pacific trade pact, they say, defies geography. And it is of course true that Britain is not a Pacific country (other than in the technical sense of owning the Pitcairn islands). But we have exceptionally close links to a number of CPTPP members. Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Canada are common law, English-speaking nations. So, to a degree, are Brunei and Malaysia.

One of the arguments for Brexit was that, in the internet age, cultural proximity trumps physical proximity. That argument is stronger now than it was a year ago. The lockdown has habituated us to using Zoom or Teams for important discussions. When travel returns, it is hard to imagine that business people will be as ready to hop over to Düsseldorf for the day to make a presentation. If you’re online, Rotorua is no further than Rennes – indeed, nearer in the sense that it shares your language, legal system and accounting methods.

Another argument for Brexit was that, by global standards, the EU was a slow-growth region. That argument, too, is now looking stronger. Although we talk of the pandemic as a global event, the truth is that it hit Europe much harder than Asia, Africa or the Antipodes.

But the biggest difference between the EU and the CPTPP is that the latter is a trade agreement rather than a state-in-the-making. Its members simply seek to maximise their prosperity through greater specialisation and exchange. Joining the CPTPP does not involve making budget transfers to its poorer regions, or accepting the supremacy of its laws over our parliamentary statutes, or adopting a common flag, passport or anthem. Nor does it require a member to alter its standards on non-exported goods and services.

Viewed purely as a trade pact, the CPTPP is preferable to the EU because it elevates mutual recognition over harmonisation. The essence of the CPTPP is that its members agree to refrain from certain actions that would restrict free commerce. It is perfectly possible for CPTPP members simultaneously to have ambitious trade deals with each other and with the EU – as, for example, Japan and Canada do. On services and on professional qualifications, CPTPP uses a “negative list” approach. In other words, it assumes that whatever is legal in one state is legal in all the others unless it is expressly exempted in the treaty.

It is fair to say that the CPTPP is wide rather than deep. It does not go as far as, say, the Australia–New Zealand deal, which is arguably the most advanced on the planet. But, as Australia and New Zealand demonstrate, a deeper trade deal can nestle within a broader one.

Our aim should be to negotiate a deal similar to that which Australia and New Zealand enjoy with one another – assuming that is, that our protectionists in DEFRA and the NFU will let us. We should, in other words, seek both to participate fully in the CPTPP and, under its auspices, to secure even more ambitious agreements with the countries closest to us in terms of GDP per capita and regulatory interoperability – namely, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore.

Indeed, New Zealand, Singapore and Chile – three of the world’s greatest free-traders – are currently setting the pace when it comes to digital trade. If Britain peels itself away from the wary and watchful EU, which has never been comfortable with the free-wheeling nature of the internet, and joins these Hayekian states, it is likely to end up crafting standards on digital trade that every competitive country will want to adopt.

Finally, there is a geopolitical case for membership. Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Pacific deal at the last minute opened the door to China which, three months ago, created a rival trade pact with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and all ten members of ASEAN.

My guess is that the Biden administration will want to reverse Trump’s mistake. After all, many of its leading members had been involved with putting the Trans-Pacific Partnership together in the first place under Obama. British membership of the zone, as well as being in itself a useful counterweight to Beijing’s ambitions in the region, will set the context for UK-US trade talks.

To sum up, then, our CPTPP application will boost jobs and growth, strengthen the Anglosphere, improve the prospects for a bilateral American deal, accelerate our pivot to the fastest-growing markets on Earth, and elevate Global Britain. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Daniel Hamilton: So we have a new CDU Chairman. Will a CDU-Green coalition follow after Germany’s federal election?

18 Jan

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

In September, Angela Merkel will step down as German Chancellor after sixteen years in office. Regardless of how one may judge her record, Merkel’s influence over the substance of European governance has been immense; from stamping her mark on EU fiscal rules to her open-doors policy during the migrant crisis to her final ascent for the UK’s post-Brexit deal.

The cast of names that have come and gone during her term in office – Tony Blair, David Cameron, Theresa May, Jacques Chirac, Francois Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, George W.Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump– is without modern compare.

Partly because of constitutional constraints and partly due to post-war caution and conservatism, stability is a feature of German politics.  Since 1982, Germany has had only three Chancellors.  In the same period, the UK has had seven Prime Ministers.  Italy has had twenty-two.

The Große Koalition between the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) has now largely served in office since 2005.  This has effectively resulted in the two main parties adopting a similar, centrist persona, with disagreements tending to focus on tweaks and cadences of policies rather than fundamentals.

This has arguably hurt the SPD most, whose traditional platform, once grounded in patriotic labour unions and cosy accommodations with big businesses, has fractured as Germany has become more ethnically diverse, more start-up friendly and more ecologist in its views.  The party won 41 per cent of the vote in 1998, yet polls around 15 per cent today.

The CDU has its own problems.  Distinct from what “voting Merkel” meant – centrism, no surprises and the social market, with a strong nod to environmentalism – the CDU’s platform has a rather hollow feel.  It is accepted, for sure, that the party stands for the defence of Germany’s social market economy and a punchy approach to German influence at an EU level, yet its pro-immigration stances and seeming intransigence on tax cuts and deregulation have separately irked working class voters and entrepreneurs.

With the CDU and SPD unable to define their appeal effectively, an opportunity exists for other parties to gain ground.

While the hard-left Die Linke and market-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) are polling well enough to have a respectable presence in the next convocation of the Budestag, it would be wise to follow the public remarks of Die Grünen, Germany’s Green Party.

Overseas perceptions of the Greens are somewhat outdated and tend to revolve around images of the “68ers” – a radical student movement founded on ending the military draft, opposition to the Vietnam war and the modernisation of a stodgy political system still inhabited by the wartime generation.

Their march to the mainstream has, though, been a long one.

The decision in 1998 of Joschka Fischer, a veteran 68er and the country’s Foreign Minister during the Green coalition with the SPD, to advocate NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis upended the party’s pacifism-at-all-costs agenda, and led Germany into an overseas conflict for the first time since World War Two.  A Green Minister-President, Winfried Kretschmann, has governed the manufacturing-dominated state of Baden-Württemberg in coalition with the CDU for more than a decade; implementing a pro-business, R&D-friendly agenda that feels more modern than the SPD’s staider rhetoric.

The issue of immigration is as polarising or more so an issue in Germany as in other European countries, yet polling suggests that recent-naturalised Germans and the descendents of the Gastarbeiter generation which moved to the country from Turkey and Yugoslavia in the 60s and 70s lean strongly towards the Greens.  This offers the party another electoral advantage over the SPD.

There is much to dislike – or even, given the party’s more extreme factions, fear – in the Green Party’s platform, but the fact remains that the party appears to be on the verge of stitching together arguably the most electorally-appealing platform in German politics today.

With the CDU on course to win roughly a third of the vote when September’s elections come, the Greens on upward or around 20 per cent of the vote and all other blocks trailing far behind, the prospect of a CDU-Green, Schwarz-Grüne coalition is a distinct possibility.

The election of Armin Laschet as the new Chairman of the CDU on Saturday morning would, on the face of it, appear to represent a “safe” choice for the party.  Coverage of his victory has focussed on his jolly nature, centrist political brand and stewardship of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of Germany’s most important manufacturing hubs.

A debate will take place in Germany during the coming months as to whether Laschet will be the party candidate for Chancellor (he faces a potential contest including the guttural Bavarian Governor, Markus Söder, and the liberal Health Minister, Jens Spahn), yet this is a battle he is likely to win.  The fact he was able to see off the socially-conservative, immigration-sceptic Friedrich Merz and media-friendly Norbert Röttgen to win the top job suggests the party is looking for stability, not revolution.

There is little debate about whether the CDU and its Bavarian affiliate, the Christian Social Union, will win the plurality of votes in September.  With Laschet as their candidate, a Große Koalition with either the rump remainder of the SPD or resurgent Greens would appear to be both mathematically and politically possible.

CDU/CSU voters have proven to be a loyal block, yet their combined 45 per cent vote share in 2013 is a distant memory.  They now poll 35 per cent.  The price of such a fall in support is that no clear path exists for Laschet to pursue a coalition with the CDU’s traditional partners, the liberal FDP.  His only options are on the left.

Given the recent momentum of the Greens, it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could further erode support from the SPD and Die Linke, leading to an electoral percentage showing in the high twenties.  In this scenario, the pressure from both Green insiders and those on the left, battered by sixteen years of losses, for a leftist GroKo may be insatiable.  The price of such a coalition, particularly for Die Linke, would likely be the shelving of Green moderation in favour of a distinctively leftist agenda.

The implications of such a centre-left coalition would be profound – for both the UK and EU.

Notwithstanding recent Coronavirus-related speeding, a coalition of this kind would see the abandonment of the ‘Schwarze Null’ fiscal policy that mandates a balanced budget domestically and higher taxes on personal incomes and business.

For a post-Brexit UK, seeking to steer a path as a low-tax, regulation-light economy, a malcontent leftist coalition in Germany would likely serve as a Trojan Horse in the European Council for policies designed to disadvantage and undermine UK interests.

For all the criticisms of Laschet’s unambitious centrism and the gap that exists between British conservatism and the CDU’s social market economy orthodoxies, the preferred outcome for the UK is clear.

Alec Cadzow: Global Britain must be prepared to intervene in the Middle East

15 Jan

Alec Cadzow is Researcher to ex-FCDO Middle East & North Africa Minister Dr Andrew Murrison MP. He previously worked for a consultancy in Jordan and specialised in Middle Eastern history at St Andrews University before that.

Parliament has returned from recess (third time lucky), now a fully sovereign entity and ready to forge a new future as a “Global Britain” – a subject which was aptly debated on Monday.

A catchy slogan, but what does it mean? Remainers have often assumed Brexit would usher in a foreign policy of not-so-splendid isolationism, at least in practice.

Conservatives must ensure the contrary, and while Monday’s debate was understandably trade-centric, a mixture of realpolitik and principle will demand that Britain does not neglect the Middle East – which has been conspicuously absent from our foreign policy discourse.

In terms of realpolitik, we have seen how 21st century military actions (or lack thereof) can have blowback on the UK’s influence.

This is particularly the case in Syria, where a pass has been granted to malign powers in our absence.

The failed 2013 vote to approve military action in the wake of Assad’s chemical weapons attack was largely down to mistrust on Middle Eastern intervention caused by the Iraq war, as Philip Hammond then Defence Secretary noted.

This event caused Obama to hesitate before outsourcing the dismantling of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile to Russia, despite such an attack infamously representing a “red line”. Obama (and the imminently incumbent Biden) was haunted by Iraq – having been elected on a pledge to bring troops home from “endless wars.”

Now, a looming pyrrhic military victory for Assad will bring a pax Russica (with the Iranian theocrats and neo-Ottoman Turks fighting for scraps). Putin sees himself as the Tsar-like protector of the Orthodox Christians and he used the war to eliminate the domestic blight of Chechen Islamists – doing so by opening up the Caucuses (a textbook authoritarian move which both Assad and Saddam employed).

So, Britain, as a result of its inertia – itself largely attributable to a hangover from Iraq – now finds itself without leverage (except for within the superficial – in this case – diplomatic channels of the UN) which has only empowered our enemies.

Indeed, such avoidance has not been atypical, as Tom Tugendhat MP chastised Britain’s abstention from an important UN vote on Iran – itself a symptom of our uneasy relationship with the EU. We can now diverge.

Realpolitik dictates that we must always be asking “if not us, then who?” As well as Russia, Iran and Turkey, there’s the threat from illiberal China extending its Middle Eastern nexus through Belt and Road. This is a power whose facilitators include the EU, and who many Conservatives – including my MP – want to restrain. Unshackled from the EU, one way to ensure we don’t facilitate Chinese hegemony is through not abstaining from the Middle East.

It’s also pragmatic to pay attention to the Middle East because of our security interconnectedness.

Destabilisation abroad, the proliferation of refugees, and extremism at home are interrelated. The statistic that more British Muslims fought for Da’esh than were in the British Army’s ranks at the peak of the former’s power hints at our problems with integrating – particularly Muslim – immigrants.

The 2015 vote to approve military action in Syria came directly after the Paris attacks, as we belatedly realised that non-intervention had empowered terrorists who brought the fight to us.

France understands these consequences, which is why they lead in the Sahel. Current Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP says he sees them too. However, if it really matters, we can do more than to deploy 250 reconnaissance troops to the UN’s Mali peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA).

There are also principles – intangible values and a complex, interwoven history – which interlock Conservatives with the Middle East.

Edmund Burke, the oft-quoted “father of modern conservatism”, was a popular figure among key Iranian reformers during the 1905 Constitutional Revolution, out of which constitutional limits were applied to the despotic Qajar monarchy. Reformers preferred the stability of gradual change – aspiring to the inherent conservatism which had created British political systems and values – rather than the destructive nature of a French-style overhaul of the Ancien Régime.

At a time when American democracy looks fragile – something which has been made fun of by antithetical regional and global leaders – Britain’s stable constitutional monarchy can provide a blueprint to reformers, many of whom live in absolute monarchies.

We are, however, compelled to remember Britain’s legacy from another perspective.

We often failed to live up to our political principles through our actions. In the case of Iran, two years after the Revolution, the Anglo-Russia Pact divided the country into spheres of influence, granting Russia the revolutionary north where political gains were quickly reversed. We would later contrive a new dynasty – the Pahlavi – and engineer two coups to keep it in power.

Another case is the Levant. The multiple promises we made to Arabs, our French allies, and Zionists during World War One were mutually exclusive and we were unable to appease every party during the Paris peace process. Having lived in Jordan – where it’s estimated 60 per cent of the population is Palestinian – I experienced first-hand some of the animosity held towards Britain borne out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Balfour Declaration which reneged on promises to create an autonomous Greater Syria governed by an Arab monarch. Our actions famously tormented T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia” in his post-war years too.

This is not to say policy makers should be drawn to the region out of imperial guilt. Instead, Global Britain provides an opportunity to align our values with our actions, and due to our history with the Middle East, where better to demonstrate this?

Some might argue a manifestation of this policy means we must cut ties with Saudi Arabia, after human rights abuses at home and abroad. Others reply that they provide us with valuable intelligence, and fill Treasury coffers through defence spending. Nuance would be leveraging the latter to positively affect the former, an argument Crispin Blunt MP has convincingly made.

It’s clear that we are obliged by too many pragmatic factors and historical-ideological principles to retreat to isolationism regarding the Middle East. Backbenchers and policy-makers alike ought to realise this as the new era of a Global Britain begins.

Malcolm Rifkind: We need a global response to Beijing’s belligerence, inhumanity and mendacity

13 Jan

Sir Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign Secretary from 1995 until 1997 and was Minister of State in the Foreign Office from 1983-86. He was responsible for the final stage of negotiations with the Chinese Government over the return of Hong Kong to China.

A week today, assuming the constitutional democratic process takes its proper course, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President of the United States.

Immediately, he will face two challenges.

The first is that he is not Donald Trump. He will want to distance himself from everything his predecessor represents: belligerence, intolerance, rage, incompetence, incoherence and unilateralism.

He will want to prove himself to be the multilateralist, internationalist, engagement-minded president – and democrat – that we all hope for.

In some ways, he will make us all heave a sigh of relief.

At the same time, he should reject one of the mistakes of the Obama administration in which he served. Against the tyrants of the world, what counts is strength. Rhetoric, while welcome, must be accompanied by action if it is to mean anything.

And now more than any time there’s a need to stand up to Xi Jinping’s brutal regime in China.

Tonight, a major new report will be launched by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, titled The Darkness Deepens.

More than any other report in recent time, it provides the full catalogue of horrors of what Xi Jinping’s regime is up to, against its own people and against the free world.

Other reports have detailed individually the atrocities against the Uyghurs, the abuses in Tibet, the persecution of Christians, the suppression of dissent and the silencing of liberties in Hong Kong – but few have combined them all. This report weaves this house of horrors together.

It brings together the dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong, the atrocities in Tibet, the assault on freedom of religion and expression throughout China and the persecution of the Uyghurs, in a way that has seldom been combined before.

And it offers ways forward.

Crucially, the report makes clear, it is not anti-China – it is critical of the Chinese Communist Party regime.

The starting point is engagement and dialogue. But the issue is not should we talk, but what should we talk about and how. And an unavoidable topic of conversation should be human rights.

And then the next question is should we trade? And for me the answer is: yes, but on what terms?

Not on terms of bullying and intimidation. Not on ”wolf-warrior diplomacy”. And definitely not by surrendering our values.

And so we need a global response to Beijing’s belligerence, inhumanity and mendacity.

The British barrister Geoffrey Nice, who prosecuted Slobodan Milošević, now chairs an inquiry into atrocities facing the Uyghurs, and previously led an independent tribunal that concluded that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China continues, and constitutes a crime against humanity. In that tribunal’s final judgement, published early last year, the eminent panel of lawyers and experts advise that anyone interacting with the Chinese regime should do so in the knowledge that they are “interacting with a criminal state”. The free world must do more to counter that criminality.

That should mean, as the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission proposes, Britain leading the establishment of an international coalition of democracies to coordinate a global response to the human rights crisis in China, bringing together not only the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and our European allies, but countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others in Asia and beyond.

The British government should do more to help build support for the establishment of a United Nations mechanism to monitor human rights in China, as called for last summer by at least 50 serving UN independent experts and several former UN special rapporteurs, including Zeid Raad al-Hussain, the distinguished former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is time to look at imposing targeted Magnitsky sanctions against key officials in the Chinese and Hong Kong regimes for serious human rights violations and breaches of international treaties.

We should be looking to diversify supply chains and reduce strategic dependence on China, and put our values and national security first when looking at Chinese investment in critical infrastructure and other sectors.

And while growing claims of genocide against the Uyghurs are not proven, there can be little doubt that what the Chinese regime is doing to the people in Xinjiang reaches the level of mass atrocities and can be considered to be attempted cultural genocide.

Last month an ingenious amendment to the Trade Bill that would prohibit trade deals with states found guilty of genocide was passed in the House of Lords by a majority of 287 to 181. What is striking is that it was introduced and supported by a cross-party group of peers that include Michael Forsyth, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord Blencathra, former Conservative Chief Whip, Eric Pickles, former Conservative Party Chairman, along with Helena Kennedy, Labour peer and leading human rights barrister, Lord Alton, cross-bencher and former Liberal chief whip, the Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, bishops and numerous others across the House of Lords including David Hope, the former Supreme Court Justice. This is no collection of rebels, but some of the country’s most distinguished experts in their field, and therefore should be taken seriously.

The Government’s position has always been that it is for the courts, not politicians, to determine genocide, and I agree. But the problem is that our international judicial mechanisms for genocide determination are found wanting, due to the referral requirements and veto power of some countries, and the result all too often is government inaction in the face of mass atrocities. This amendment creates a vehicle, allowing for the High Court of England and Wales to make a determination and, in any given situation that it does so, the government is duty-bound to abandon any trade deals it may have or hope for with the regimes responsible. As Nice says, “no well-ordered state would want to be trading with a genocidal state.”

It is worth noting that this amendment does not apply retrospectively, and it does not violate multilateral trade commitments, only bilateral agreements. It doesn’t preclude further action at an international level – indeed it strengthens the case for it. And – given my own concern that the charge of genocide should only ever be made when there is indisputable evidence of mass killing and proof of intent – it would, according to Nice, “discourage, and probably significantly reduce, casual and often instrumental assertions that genocide is being committed.”

So it may or may not apply to China. But it would signal Britain’s intent – to the Chinese regime and every other brutal dictatorship – that we will not stand by while grave atrocities are committed. For these reasons I hope Members of Parliament will support it when it comes to the House of Commons.

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report on Xi Jinping’s human rights record follows its previous one in 2016, titled The Darkest Moment. As the Commission acknowledges, the title four and a half years ago was with hindsight a little premature, for the darkness has clearly deepened – hence the title of the new report. It makes sad reading, but it should be read in every foreign ministry in the world. If only the Chinese people could themselves read it too, for then they would realise the degree to which millions of their fellow citizens are persecuted and imprisoned by a cruel regime. That cruelty requires a robust, co-ordinated and effective response by the free world, and I hope Britain – together with the new US administration and our other allies, will lead that effort.

The call for America to be purified by blood echoes back to the Founding Fathers. Trump is a chapter in that enduring story.

8 Jan

Has the American Constitution survived? Yes. It is intact after four years of Donald Trump, and can surely endure a few days more of this sleazy, shameless, self-obsessed fantasist.

Trump himself has belatedly changed his tune, declaring on Thursday evening:

“My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”

His new message is so at variance with his normal aggressive and provocative tone that it can only be understood as an admission of defeat.

The President has been forced to concede that his outrageous attempts to defy the election result in the courts have failed. So has the invasion by his supporters of Capitol Hill.

He now reproves those rioters for having “defiled the seat of our democracy”. His position has become so hopeless that he plays the statesman.

This tardy repentance should not obscure his record as a campaigner who got to the top by defying every rule of decent behaviour.

Trump is in some respects unique. He is the first President who never served either in the armed forces, or in some other federal office, before entering the White House.

He is also the first President to be a reality TV star, a genre in which the worse one behaves, the better one does in the ratings.

And he is the first President to master the art of using Twitter to set the agenda, communicate direct with his supporters, enthuse them in his cause and smear anyone who opposes him.

As he himself told Fox News in March 2017: “I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter.”

This vulgarian from the suburbs, with his horrible buildings, his use of the law to sue anyone unwise enough to enter into any business dealings with him, his utter lack of concern with the truth, his merciless contempt for upholders of civilised conduct, was for several decades an embarrassment to decent New Yorkers, before becoming an embarrassment to decent Americans everywhere.

The pictures which went round the world of the Capitol being invaded by his supporters were a monstrous embarrassment, and Trump was to blame for inciting this outrage.

It appears he will be the chief loser from this final attempt to prosper by behaving worse than anyone else. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes, the Trump spell has been broken.

But as Trump leaves the stage, it would be foolish to seek comfort in the idea that he was a mere barbarian, who for a short time managed by some fluke to capture the Republican Party.

Trump was more cunning than that. As a political opponent, he was persistently underestimated by naive Democrats, and indeed by naive journalists on America’s most famous newspapers, who supposed that simply by demonstrating he was a liar they could destroy him.

He defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by becoming the chosen instrument of revenge of scorned provincial America against the rich, condescending liberals on the East and West coasts who believe in abortion and same-sex marriage and racial equality.

The more distressing Trump’s behaviour became to those liberals, the better he pleased his supporters. The more uncouth he was, and the more racist in his references to Moslems, Mexicans and Barack Obama, the louder his angry and excluded voters cheered.

The Washington demonstrations this week are, one hopes, a final, pitiful gesture by those supporters, rounding off his presidency in an entirely fitting manner.

But it would be foolish to regard the invasion of Capitol Hill as the end of the problem. For Trump appealed to emotions and to a constituency which have existed since the foundation of the Republic.

Consider this passage, from a letter written in 1787:

“What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

That was Thomas Jefferson, who in 1776 was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and from 1801-09 served as the third President.

This Founding Father, one of the greatest intellects ever to apply his mind to the problem of creating and maintaining the United States, was an admirer of the French Revolution, and his defence of revolutionary violence has been interpreted with disastrous literalness by terrorists such as the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 murdered 168 people by blowing up a federal building.

The generally elevated language and conduct of the Founding Fathers was not, unfortunately, maintained by their successors. The seventh President, Andrew Jackson, in office from 1829-37, was a vindictive brute with a genius for appealing to angry frontiersmen who felt looked down upon by the folks in Washington.

The promise to purify Washington is one of the oldest in American politics. Trump plugged himself into the anti-federal tradition, the deep-seated belief that the Federal Government wants to take people’s freedom away, seize their guns and trample on their cherished beliefs.

During the 2008 presidential election, I reported on a rally by Sarah Palin, the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate, in Chillicothe, Ohio, a charming old town which from 1803-10 served as the first capital of that state:

Mrs Palin attacked the Los Angeles Times for refusing to release a video tape of Mr Obama on which he may or may not have made some pro-Palestinian remarks: “If there’s a Pulitzer Prize category for excellence in kowtowing, the Los Angeles Times is probably going to win it.”

As Mrs Palin beamed her “would you believe it” smile and the crowd cheered her on, an angry man turned towards the press enclosure and shouted, “Do some investigation, media.”

Mrs Palin had touched on a grave matter, for as she told her fans, on the tape in question “some very derogatory things were said about Israel.”

To get some faint idea of the significance of the word “Israel” in American politics, and especially in Christian evangelical circles, it is worth quoting a conversation I had with one of Mrs Palin’s supporters. I asked this friendly and sincere woman if she thought Mr Obama was a Christian, to which she replied: “I don’t believe he is. Just the things I’ve been hearing about him, he’s a Muslim.”

Me: “But he’s not a Muslim.”

Friendly woman: “But the church that he was in, they were slamming Israel, and if you’re not for Israel that’s God’s chosen nation. If you’re against Israel you’re against God.”

I was reminded of the words I had heard earlier that morning while driving through the beautiful Ohio countryside, from a preacher on a Christian radio station who urged his flock to vote Republican and condemned Mr Obama as a Marxist, an apostate, a hypocrite and a viper.

On the subject of abortion, the preacher said in a voice of doom: “You can suck their brains out but it’s not murder because the Government has sanctioned it. It’s just butchery…mutilation…sin.”

Trump was a more skilful version of Palin, and has taken longer than she did to blow up. He will not be the last huckster who sets out to make himself the champion of angry, disregarded, unfashionable America.

Conservatives can rejoice that Trump is leaving the stage, but had better not forget his followers will be looking for a new leader.

Andrew Gimson is the author of Gimson’s Presidents.

Stephen Booth: Brexit-related concerns about a Biden presidency are overblown. The reality is more nuanced.

12 Nov

Stephen Booth is a policy analyst and political commentator.

Much of the media commentary in recent days has suggested a potential Biden Presidency will create short-term diplomatic problems for the UK. From this viewpoint, the prospect of a Biden White House in January 2021 – pending the resolution of the US election process and President Trump’s legal battles – heralds a diminishing of London’s standing in Washington and therefore increases the pressure on the UK to accept the EU’s terms for a trade deal.

The reality is likely to be more nuanced and a Biden Presidency would also present opportunities for Britain to work closely with the US post-Brexit.

In certain EU capitals, a Biden win is seen as strengthening the EU’s leverage in the end game Brexit negotiations over the coming days. Asked whether Biden’s projected win would impact the Brexit talks, Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister, replied: “I think perhaps it does.” EU diplomats have been quoted as saying a Biden win would “put a squeeze” on the UK, as the prospect of a UK-US trade deal could slip down the agenda.

The risk is that Brussels overplays its hand. Past evidence would suggest that the current UK negotiating team is more likely to judge a potential UK-EU deal on its merits rather than on what the occupant of the White House might think. An independent trade policy was viewed by many Leave voters as a benefit of Brexit, but this is not the same as believing Brexit was contingent on a trade deal with the US, much as it might be nice to have.

From what little has emerged from the UK-EU talks in recent days, it appears that the EU remains unwilling to bend on fishing, confident that the prize of market access for other more economically significant sectors is more important to the UK. This still assumes the UK is not prepared to walk away on the point of principle – that Brexit means regaining sovereignty over UK waters – which this government appears willing to do, however reluctantly.

The EU is also confident it has Biden on its side in the row over the Internal Market Bill, which would enable ministers to override aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the absence of a UK-EU settlement. Biden’s comments during the election campaign about a US trade deal being contingent on respect for the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) were significant, but ultimately, it’s not clear how much has changed on this score.

Indeed, the Government’s very argument is that the powers it is seeking are a necessary “safety net” in order to uphold the UK’s commitments under the GFA. And that it is the EU’s maximalist interpretation of the Protocol which threatens to undermine the GFA.

As I have written previously, a workable compromise on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is in both sides’ interests. This has been underlined this week with Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers jointly writing to the EU describing the “unacceptable” and “real threat” to food supplies being shipped to Northern Irish supermarkets from Great Britain.

The cross-community plea from the DUP and Sinn Féin leaders for greater EU flexibility on the need for checks should illustrate to Dublin and Brussels that they cannot take consent for the Protocol for granted if it cannot be made to work for individuals and businesses in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, despite a large defeat in the House of Lords on the Bill, in the absence of a satisfactory UK-EU deal, there is every sign that the government plans to proceed with its current approach with the Internal Market Bill and forthcoming Finance Bill.

However, if there is UK-EU agreement on the implementation of the Protocol – eased by a wider UK-EU trade deal – the issue could be easily defused as there would be no need for the powers. If a solution is good enough for Dublin and Brussels, it will be good enough for Washington. If there is no deal, everyone will be in uncharted territory, including the US.

Meanwhile, Biden’s historical opposition to Brexit should not be discounted but does not mean it will determine his attitude to Britain now that Brexit is a reality. Following his congratulatory call with the Prime Minister, reportedly the first European leader he spoke to, Biden’s team stressed its desire to work with the UK on global issues such as security cooperation via NATO.

We also know that Biden shares the UK’s view that urgent global action on climate change is required. This presents an obvious opportunity, since the UK will host the 2021 United Nations climate summit, COP26.

Biden is certainly more pro-EU than Trump has been but it should be noted that President Obama arguably did as much as anyone to pivot the US’ focus and attention from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific. This reflected long-term global trends, which individual leaders can amplify or camouflage, but they cannot reverse.

Equally, international alliances are not zero-sum. A rejuvenation of US-EU relations does not have to come at the expense of the UK. Trump’s often combative relationship with the EU has risked forcing the UK to choose between Washington and Brussels when, ideally, it should have workable relations with both.

A US-UK trade deal may well slip down the short-term agenda under Biden but would remain doable. Bilateral trade agreements would not necessarily be his immediate priority, since domestic matters are more pressing. However, post-Brexit, a close UK-US relationship, including deepening the trade relationship, still makes strategic and geopolitical sense, whoever the occupant of the White House.

The UK is a major European power and a top-ranking middle power globally. Nevertheless, the UK might need to be prepared to think more creatively about strengthening US-UK ties. A Biden administration might prioritise large multilateral agreements, such as the Common and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which the UK also hopes to join.

Equally, some of the biggest domestic obstacles to a US-UK trade deal, or indeed UK accession to CPTPP, have not gone away. Improved access to the UK’s agricultural markets is a bipartisan interest in the US. The UK will need to be prepared to liberalise in this area if it wants to further its trade ambitions with US and other trade partners, including Australia and New Zealand.

The UK and the US continue to have many shared interests. And, ultimately, while personalities matter in international relations, interests matter more.

Jason Reed: Who stands for freedom in America? Neither Trump nor Biden speak for me.

2 Sep

Jason Reed is a student at the LSE. He is Deputy Editor of 1828.

Watching America’s quadrennial political reckoning from across the pond, one thing is becoming clearer than ever before. The US’s rigid two-party system and increasingly polarised socio-political discourse are leaving liberty-lovers and freedom-fighters politically homeless.

I believe in freedom. I want the government to get out of people’s lives. I think people should be allowed to conduct themselves however they wish. On economic issues, I am a tax-slashing capitalist; on social issues, a forward-looking progressive. This is neither a radical nor unusual political standpoint.

In the UK, the centre-right Conservative party caters to my politics. Sure, it’s a broad church – there are many whose views differ from mine, on both social and economic issues – but there are more than enough free marketeers and social liberals to make me feel politically represented, despite the occasional blip here and there. In America, though, neither party caters to what I believe in. Very few American politicians seem to believe in freedom.

In the UK’s two-party system, the Conservative Party – of which I am a member – is the right-leaning one. So, I should support the Republicans, since they represent the right-leaning half of America’s political dichotomy. Right?

If only it were that simple. The British political landscape is not at all mirrored by its trans-Atlantic cousin. The Republican party is not the same as the Conservative party. We Conservatives are much more moderate on the whole – centre-right, rather than right-wing – and, crucially, the Tory party is a much broader church than the GOP, which is narrow and dogmatic.

That means there is a great deal of overlap between the Conservatives and Democrats. Rory Stewart, who was a leading candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party just last year, is a former adviser to President Obama.

If Donald Trump were a British politician, he would be Nigel Farage. Too nationalistic for the Conservative party, claiming to speak for the silent majority, hinging his political relevance on the white working class and dishing out equal parts fear and anger in his politics.

Farage was only prevented from rising to the top of British politics in the same way Trump did in the US thanks to our electoral system. The ‘mother of parliaments’ does an excellent job of keeping populist crackpots at arm’s length. Trump’s political career would have failed in the UK, too.

This brand of politician can only win power when a presidential system allows them to exploit personality politics – and the hefty bank accounts of their donors – in order to soar to the top in one fell swoop, independent of establishmentarian party machinery.

Trump could never be a Tory. Republicanism means something fundamentally different to conservatism.

The GOP has no regard for fiscal conservatism. It embraces a backwards mercantilism, which it combines with its heinous nativism, resulting in a soup of nationalistic dogma. ‘Britain First’ is the name of a fascist group which was expelled from the political mainstream a long time ago. ‘America First’, in much the same way, represents everything fans of freedom ought to stand against.

Donald ‘Tariff Man’ Trump is the walking, talking reality of everything wrong with nationalism – and he single-handedly unlocked American politics, winning millions over with his hollow, affirming rhetoric. He and his ideological brethren will dictate the direction of the Republican party for at least a generation.

Although the British government’s current position on trans rights, for instance, is unsavoury, there is a genuine, vibrant debate within the party. A group of backbenchers, elected by the alleged tradcon loyalists who supposedly make up the northern Red Wall constituencies, recently banded together to call for a change of direction. A U-turn on this issue is not unforeseeable.

Conversely, Trump embracing trans rights and representation could hardly be any less likely. The man who banned trans people from armed service, citing fictitious “health concerns”, is not going to change his mind on his issue, and neither is anyone else in his party.

The Republican base of Tucker Carlson addicts laps up this kind of clumsy, directionless social conservatism. The more extreme, the better. Triggering the wets and owning the libs is now the only path to victory. A lack of English reserve is killing the American right.

The American left is no more attractive. Democrats are statists, albeit in varying degrees. Joe Biden wants to wrap America up in a red-tape pie and then take it out at the knees with a horrifyingly haphazard tax plan. His running mate, Kamala ‘Cop’ Harris, is an institutional racism enthusiast and a raging authoritarian.

Of the myriad contenders for the Democratic nomination, only Andrew Yang spoke any sense to liberals (in the true sense of the word). But even he was frustratingly pessimistic on the power of big tech, AI and the free market to effect real change. And, of course, his winning the nomination would only have guaranteed a second term for Trump. The realistic choices were always two different brands of ultra-interventionist.

Washington’s two-party system is so unforgiving that there is no escape from this mire. Britain has a two-party system too, of course. And yet, a third party was in government barely five years ago. And last year, the governing party came in fifth in a national election. In the US, even those who loyally back the strongest third-party force – the Libertarians – have no hope of representation.

Freedom in America, then, is not some controversial idea which most are too cautious to touch. It is simply forgotten. An entire nation’s discourse has tossed liberty aside without a second thought, leaving its citizens with a stark choice between dangerous socialists and climate-denying racists.

The result is a political landscape that is openly hostile towards liberty. America has slipped into the very human trap of sorting the world into left and right, black and white, good and evil. Twelve per cent of members of the House of Commons are neither Conservative nor Labour, whereas every member of America’s representative bodies was elected as a Democrat or a Republican.

There are rare glimmers of hope in the likes of Rand Paul and Justin Amash but for the most part, freedom is absent from contemporary American politics. Our Atlantic cousins have become so plagued by polarisation that they have abandoned liberalism altogether.

The United States of America was built on the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those ideas ought to be timeless. America needs to rediscover itself. Its politics has become so overwhelmed by the weight of modern discourse and the beast of rolling news that an entire nation has forgotten what it once believed in.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

What would President Biden and Vice President Harris mean for the Special Relationship?

12 Aug

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Contrary to some of the analysis of late, Joe Biden is by no means a shoo-in for the presidency in November. Nationally, polls are tightening and at the same point with 84 days to go in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the Five Thirty Eight polling average was 6.6 per cent. The Biden campaign will begin to face accusations of losing momentum if Donald Trump continues to chip away at his lead. On that basis, it makes sense that Biden has sought to wrestle back the narrative by announcing Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. If the Biden-Harris ticket is victorious in November, the White House will look like a very different place to the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Biden on Britain and Brexit

Biden is no Brexiteer like Trump. Biden and his old boss, President Obama, fell into line with David Cameron when they effectively backed the Remain campaign by declaring an independent UK would be at the “back of the queue” when it came to negotiating a US trade deal. The day after the EU referendum in 2016, Biden was in Dublin and remarked “We’d have preferred a different outcome”.

Nevertheless, the political imperative of the Special Relationship means there is no chance that Biden would abandon the UK on day one of his presidency. On the contrary, one would expect a presidential visit to London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin within the first six months of President Biden’s tenure. It is the final two stops of that likely trip that provide the most interesting topics for discussion.

Both presidential candidates have direct links to the UK. Donald Trump is an Anglophile and reveres his Scottish heritage. Biden’s proximity lies in Ireland. His great grandfather, James Finnegan, emigrated from County Louth as a child, in 1850. In advance of his 2016 visit to Ireland, Biden said: “James Joyce wrote, ‘When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart. Well, Northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart. But Ireland will be written on my soul.’” On a purely personal basis therefore, we have grounds for optimism that the Special Relationship is in safe hands no matter the election outcome.

Negotiating a US-UK FTA in a Biden presidency

Biden would almost certainly cool some of the Trump White House’s more aggressive trade policies such as obstructing the work of the World Trade Organization. But Biden’s 40 years of political experience means he knows which way the wind is blowing on trade. He will want to ensure any deal is seen to protect US jobs and domestic production, while maximising export potential.

What is more, Harris, Biden’s newly announced running mate, has said she would oppose any trade deals that don’t include high labour and environmental standards. She opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016 citing insufficient protection for US workers.

That rings alarm bells for those hoping the UK could ascend to the CPTPP – assuming the United States would do the same – therefore subverting the need for a bilateral US-UK FTA. Furthermore, Harris has little experience of the Special Relationship to speak of. On the foreign policy section of her website, she lists as “key partners” Japan, India, Mexico, and Korea. The UK is conspicuous in its absence for a potential future Vice President of the US

Where Washington and Westminster could align

In four clear instances we see Washington and Westminster aligning under the prospective leadership of Biden and Johnson respectively.

First, the Trump campaign and Republican Party are trying to paint Biden as a puppet of China. Consequently, he is being pushed into a more hawkish corner. That will mean alignment with an increasingly Sino-scepetic Downing Street and Parliament. Trump initially courted Chinese President Xi Jinping but since then has made an aggressively anti-China stance a key plank of his presidency. Having banned Huawei from our 5G infrastructure, Downing Street looks set to be largely in lockstep with Washington regardless of the outcome in November.

Second, Johnson’s government has shown little interest in entertaining Trump’s more excessive foreign policy ideals. The Trump administration has done its best to erode the World Trade Organization, considering it too kind to China. Conversely, Johnson has nominated Liam Fox to be its next Director-General. Both Fox and his successor at DIT, Liz Truss, extol the virtues of global trade and the rules-based international order that governs it. The British government aspires to be an invisible link in the chain that connects trading nations. In that regard, Biden would be supportive.

Third, environmental policy is one area in which Johnson and Trump do not see eye to eye. The stark divergence in approach has become an awkward rift between the two allies. The UK was a key supporter of the Paris Climate Accord from which Trump removed the US. As the Chair of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Downing Street would undoubtedly favour a US President who considers climate change one of the world’s biggest and most pressing priorities. That only applies to Biden.

Lastly, Iran. As Foreign Secretary, Johnson failed in his attempt to persuade the Trump administration to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. Biden would rejoin it in a heartbeat, having been a part of the Obama administration who orchestrated it in the first place.

In summary, the Special Relationship will endure irrespective of the winner in November. Built on a shared understanding and common values, the relationship transcends presidents and prime ministers. On China, the US and UK look set to form an even closer alliance alongside their Five Eyes allies. That is something both Trump and Biden appear to agree on.