Biden’s victory is good for the world, but what about the UK Government – and East Anglia?
- Credit: AP
I’ve never been a fan of Donald Trump and I was disappointed when he was elected President of the USA four years ago. I think the world will be a better, and safer, place with Joe Biden sitting in the White House.
It will be good to have the world’s largest democracy back in the World Health Organisation and back at table of the Paris Climate Talks. It will be good to have a Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military who is not prone to temper tantrums or using insults to try to get his own way in talks with other leaders.
For all those reasons the world has reason to welcome the fact that Mr Trump’s tenancy of the White House is coming to an end.
But I can understand the nervousness being felt at the top of the UK government right now about the result – and the justifiable concern being felt in some parts of Suffolk over the future of the huge US airbases, especially Mildenhall.
I strongly suspect that many ministers were privately rooting for Mr Trump to win re-election. I say “privately” because the sense I get is that many, if not most, supporters of the current government are as appalled by much of the US president’s behaviour and manner as everyone else.
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But so far as the UK government was concerned, Mr Trump was a known quantity – and basically on the same page as them on the major economic issue of the day.
He is a supporter of Brexit – which he sees as the first phase of the eventual dissolution of the European Union – and he sees the UK as a key ally in his struggles with those on the continent who have the impertinence to speak different languages to himself.
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We have seen ministers, including the Prime Minister himself, squirming when asked about the prospect of a Biden victory.
Mr Johnson must have been well aware that some of the words he had written years ago in an attempt to endear himself to right-wing readers of national publications had caused deep offence to the new president’s former boss – and his supporters have clearly not forgotten them.
Meanwhile we had the extraordinary sight at the weekend of the British Foreign Secretary being unable to say that all votes should be counted in a democratic election.
When government ministers did start to realise what the world had known for days about the election result, there was an element of “How do we get out of this?” as the enormity of the necessary diplomatic effort became clear.
Because they know that before they can really have a good relationship with the new administration in Washington they have to do some pretty heavy-duty bridge building – while other countries will be able to steam ahead with good relations.
We already know that Mr Biden’s Irish roots – and his links with the Irish government – mean that he is likely to listen to Dublin more than London when discussing how Brexit affects the British Isles.
And the change in the White House could have a major – albeit long-term – affect on the future of the Suffolk airbases. The original decision to close Mildenhall by 2023 was taken by the Obama administration, of which Mr Biden was a member.
That was first delayed until 2027 by Mr Trump. And then in June this year it was said there was no closure date after Mr Trump had a row with Germany over NATO funding and announced plans to move 12,000 US troops from that country.
I don’t think for a second that the Mildenhall airbase will be top of Mr Biden’s “to do” list when he moves into the White House but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if its future is called into question again at some point during his presidency.
Having said that, any closure could take years to implement so the suspicion will be that the base’s future is probably guaranteed until 2030 – but there will be jitters in north west Suffolk about the long-term viability of the base.
Like, I’m sure, the vast majority of British voters, I’m pleased to see that the US is once again headed by someone with an internationalist outlook who understands that you can’t make your country greater by threatening the economy, health and environment of other parts of the planet.
But anyone who thinks that a Biden presidency will make life easier for the current British government needs to take a reality check. The language will be more diplomatic over the next four years, but there’s no guarantee that relations will be friendlier under the surface.