Boris Johnson is biding his time while he awaits the result of the US presidential election, in the hope that a Trump victory will allow him to leave the EU without a deal, according to a former British diplomat.
Ivan Rogers was the UK’s permanent representative to the EU – the equivalent of an ambassador – from 2013 to 2017, his term covering the run-up to the Brexit referendum and the result. He left government service following disagreements with Prime Minister Teresa May over UK policy towards the EU.
Speaking to the Observer newspaper, Rogers said he had been in contact with government circles in various EU capitals recently, and was given the impression they think the British PM is now keeping the Brexit negotiations on a low flame so as to keep his options open on a no-deal.
In recent days the British government has switched back and forth with its attitude to talks, first calling the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to tell him there was no point coming to London to continue negotiations, then forcing government minister Michael Gove – one of the leading figures in the Brexit campaign – to make a complete U-turn on the floor of the House of Commons.
In one part of his speech, Gove had said that the government’s hoped-for Canada-style trade agreement – the closest thing to no deal – “would not now happen”.
Later, when news came in that Barnier had made a better offer to UK negotiator David Frost, Gove welcomed the chance to get back to the negotiating table.
“Even while I have been at the dispatch box it has been reported that there has been a constructive move on the part of the EU and I welcome that,” he told MPs.
“Obviously we need to work on the basis of the proposed intensification they propose. And I prefer to look forward in optimism than look back in anger.”
According to Rogers, the UK’s prevarication can be explained as a delay tactic to wait to see who will be entering the White House in January – the Brexit-friendly Donald Trump or his Democrat rival Joe Biden.
Johnson believes he has a close relationship with Trump, and feels confident the UK could reach a trade agreement with the US in short order – though not everyone thinks that would be a good thing.
Biden, on the other hand, is more likely to seek closer ties with the EU than the renegade British. His party, meanwhile, suspects the no-deal Brexit represents a breach of the Good Friday Agreement on inter-Irish relations and security. And if so, a Democratic Congress would refuse to ratify any US-UK deal.
“I don’t think either Biden or his core team are anti-British, but I think they are unimpressed by both Johnson and his top team,” Rogers said.
“They believe him to have been an early and vigorous supporter of Trump, and that Brexiteer thinking – which they think has damaged the unity of the west – has many parallels with Trumpism. So I really doubt there will be much warmth in the personal relationship. And Biden’s would simply not be an administration which viewed European integration as a negative.”