Boris Johnson will be able to build strong relations with Joe Biden if he beats Donald Trump despite their political differences, according to a former ambassador who has known both men for decades.
The prime minister and the president have been mutally supportive since taking power but Johnson has ordered a transatlantic bridge-building operation with the Democratic candidate as Trump fails to close the gap in the polls just two weeks before election day.
The move is in spite of the personal friendship between Brexit-supporting Trump and Johnson and the prime minister’s disparaging comments about Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice-president for eight years.
The prime minister’s team is said to be fearful that Britain might be shunned by a Biden administration, which would prioritise a trade deal with the EU, but Anthony Gardner, who was US ambassador to the EU for three years under Barack Obama and an Oxford classmate of Johnson, believes that the so-called special relationship between the two countries that has spanned decades will be stronger with Biden rather than Trump in the White House.
He said: “Certain members of the UK Government have somehow been convinced that Donald Trump is great for Britain, particularly because he embraced Brexit.
“However, they have minimised or even forgotten a number of key things, which should have convinced them Donald Trump is not, and would never be, an easy partner for the UK.
“He doesn’t believe in free trade, he believes in managed trade. He doesn’t believe in multilateralism, he believes in unilateral relationships.
“Trump believes climate change is a hoax and has withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement, whereas the UK Government believes that combating climate changes is critical.
“He doesn’t particularly rate human rights as a major concern, with many reports indicating he was willing to trade away human rights concerns, particularly with regard to China in order to get a deal with the Chinese.
“The UK Government believes human rights is a major concern and has very robustly and courageously defended human rights around the world.
“So if you look at the degree to which there is alignment between the US under Donald Trump and the core values and policies of the UK Government, actually there’s precious little overlap except for Brexit.”
He added: “I’m fairly optimistic that the relationship with the UK will actually be substantively stronger under a Biden presidency than it would be under Donald Trump.”
Obama backed the UK remaining in the EU while Biden, who is proud of his Irish roots, has signalled he will be reluctant to deal with Britain if Brexit undermines the Good Friday Agreeement.
However, Mr Gardner said that Brexit was now “water under the bridge”, adding: “The decision was taken and the UK will clearly be leaving on January 1. There’s no point in challenging the past, nor would any US administration be interested in doing that.
“But any US administration, including a Biden administration, would be particularly eager to see that the UK’s relationship with the EU remains as amicable as possible and is as tightly integrated as possible on all fronts, not just trade but also on security, law enforcement and so forth.”
Trump has promised a lucrative post-Brexit trade deal with Britain. But Biden last week said a deal could only happen if the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland was respected and there was no return to a hard border.
Mr Gardner said: “I think the risk is limited but he was absolutely correct to defend the accords, and not because of a so-called Irish lobby, but because we see those accords as being extremely invaluable and did participate in bringing them about.”
Johnson has previously made offensive remarks about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In a 2007 newspaper column, he likened Clinton to “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”. He also described Obama as a “part-Kenyan president” with an “ancestral dislike of the British empire” in 2016 following the removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office in the White House.
But Mr Gardner said: “I’m sure the comments about Hillary Clinton and Obama will be forgotten and there will be a strong relationship.
“I’ve known Biden for a long time. I’ve worked with him and I’ve supported his presidential campaign from the very beginning.
“He often came to Brussels when I was US ambassador to the EU, and I knew him before that when he was chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee.
“I’ve had enormous respect for him over many years. He’s a man of enormous empathy, an under-rated quality that we desperately need now.
“I saw it in the way he deals with people, including his staff, showing real care and commitment for people around him.
“He is someone who grew up in circumstances that were far from privileged. He knows what it’s like for a family to struggle to get by.
“He has a unique ability to connect with people, even across the aisle, and he has unparalleled experience as a politician, including on foreign policy. All these things have led me to believe that Joe Biden is the man for the moment.”
Mr Gardner said that, despite their differing politics, Biden and Johnson would work together.
He said: “They need to work together and I think they will work effectively together. I should note I went to Oxford with Boris Johnson.
“We were at Balliol College at the same time. He brought me into the Oxford Union and we’ve stayed in touch for over 30 years now.
“When I was with the European Commission, he was working in Brussels for the Daily Telegraph. When he was Foreign Secretary, I brought him and US Secretary of State John Kerry together.”
At an infamous joint press conference in 2016, Johnson was accused by the US media of writing “outright lies” when he was a journalist, and reporters asked former presidential candidate Kerry if he could trust him. He said that Mr Gardner “told me this man is a very smart and capable man”. Johnson replied: “Fantastic, I can live with that. Phew! We can stop there.”
Mr Gardner said of Johnson and Biden working together: “They need to. The relationship is too important. It’s as simple as that.”
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