Phone Calls Play Key Role in Transatlantic Relations

The anxieties of Britain’s ruling Conservatives about how Anglo-American relations may unfold under a Biden administration were partly calmed midweek when President-elect Joe Biden chose to phone Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of conversations with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel.“Special relationship maintained as Johnson is first on Joe Biden’s call list,” the Times of London proclaimed on its front page Wednesday. The two men spoke for around 25 minutes. Britain’s newspapers — and Downing Street officials privately — appeared gleeful, too, that Biden phoned Johnson ahead of talking with Ireland’s Micheal Martin.“The prime minister warmly congratulated Joe Biden on his election as president of the United States,” a spokesman said. “They discussed the close and long-standing relationship between our countries and committed to building on this partnership in the years ahead, in areas such as trade and security, including through NATO.”About-faceSpeaking in the House of Commons Wednesday, Johnson hailed his “refreshing” conversation with Biden, and in his enthusiasm misspoke, describing Donald Trump as the “previous president.” Trump once described Johnson as “Britain Trump,” lauding him for championing Brexit and embracing him as a kindred spirit.Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question-time debate at the House of Commons in London, Britain, Nov. 11, 2020.“One of the many merits of the excellent conversation I had yesterday with president-elect Joe Biden was that we were strongly agreed on the need for once again the UK and the US to stand together to stick up for our values around the world,” Johnson told lawmakers.Speaking later Wednesday during a visit to a food distribution center in the British capital, Johnson said: “Sticking up for democracy around the world, human rights, free trade, NATO – Joe Biden is a very strong believer in the transatlantic alliance and indeed the special relationship — and above all climate change.”But there was no mention by Johnson, or his aides, about whether the pair had discussed during the phone call a key issue that’s been dividing Britain’s Conservatives and America’s Democrats — Johnson’s threat to ignore parts of Britain’s withdrawal Brexit agreement with the European Union regarding Northern Ireland.A Biden spokesman later said the issue had been raised. The Democrats have warned that Britain’s exit from the European bloc should not impact the island of Ireland or undermine peace there.Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 29, 2016, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria.In a podcast discussion last year, Blinken expressed concern that the Good Friday Agreement could be compromised because of Brexit. “The United States played a pivotal role in getting peace in Northern Ireland,” he said. “It certainly is a lot harder without the EU and no one, of course, wants to go back to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” he added.Germany“I think their instincts will be to downgrade Britain a bit and try to work with Germany more on transatlantic relations,” said Kundnani. “But then I suspect it will become apparent pretty quickly that on several major issues, particularly around China and Russia, Germany won’t be as cooperative. I am curious how then the Biden administration reacts and how it recalibrates?”British diplomats appear to be planning for just that eventuality. Peter Ricketts, a former British national security adviser, told British broadcasters that Biden won’t come with any sentimental regard for the British. “Britain is going to have to earn its keep with Washington and show we are working in ways they help the American interest as well,” he said.

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