The revelation that the Biden administration issued a “demarche” or diplomatic dressing down to the British government last week over its handling of the Northern Ireland border should cause outrage in Britain. This is the kind of treatment that is normally dished out to enemies of the United States, such as Russia, and hardly ever issued against a close ally.
As both The Telegraph and The Times have reported, Biden’s most senior diplomat in London delivered a firm rebuke on June 3 on behalf of the president to Brexit minister Lord Frost declaring that Britain’s stance on the Northern Ireland Protocol was jeopardising the future of the Northern Ireland peace process. To make matters even worse, Yael Lempert, Washington’s chargé d'affaires in London, issued a thinly veiled warning, linking the prospect of a US/UK free trade deal with White House demands for the UK to follow the European Union’s directives on agricultural standards.
In many respects, this is Joe Biden's "back of the queue" moment. Barack Obama's now infamous anti-Brexit intervention didn't go down well back in 2016, and threats like this will always backfire with the British people, who don't appreciate being lectured to by US presidents, not least one who displays his anti-British sentiments on his sleeve.
Unlike Obama, however, who was encouraged to intervene ahead of the Brexit referendum by then Prime Minister David Cameron, Biden didn’t act at the prodding of Downing Street. Biden’s Northern Ireland warning was a political cruise missile strike aimed directly at Boris Johnson and his Conservative government, with the intention of forcing a change in British policy. As a staunch Irish nationalist, Biden has frequently been critical of Great Britain over Northern Ireland, and now that he is president sees an opportunity to take it to task.
There is no love lost between Biden’s team, many of whom served in the Obama administration, and Boris Johnson. Some of Biden’s extremely sensitive aides are still unhappy with the former Mayor of London for his sharp criticism of Barack Obama over the removal of the Winston Churchill bust from the Oval Office back in 2009. They also intensely dislike Brexit and Johnson’s formerly close partnership with the Trump presidency. In addition, they have been angered by the strong stance of the British government in the culture wars, with its firm rejection of the kind of “woke” liberal agenda that is now central to the thinking of the Biden operation. Indeed, on many issues, the US and British governments are worlds apart, and Johnson has been forced to work with the most Left-wing US presidency in American history.
The arrogance of the Biden administration ahead of the G7 meeting in Cornwall has been nothing short of breathtaking. This is no way to treat America's closest friend and ally. The British people didn't vote for Joe Biden and the Democrats. They voted for Brexit and Boris Johnson's Conservatives. They voted to leave the EU and take back control of Britain's destiny. They don't need to be lectured by a US president who as a senator adopted a sympathetic stance towards the Irish Republican Army, and opposed the extradition of Irish terror suspects to face trial in the United Kingdom.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was outspoken in his criticism of then prime minister Theresa May for what he saw as her weak handling of the Brexit negotiations. But he never made threats against Britain and always championed a free trade deal with the United Kingdom. Trump respected the democratic will of the British people to leave the European Union, and his instincts were profoundly pro-British and extremely supportive of the Special Relationship. Trump loathed the EU, and believed that the British people would be far better off completely freed of the shackles of the European Project.
Biden takes a very different approach to Trump when it comes to Europe and Brexit. He is a Eurofederalist at heart, who as vice president under Obama remarked in a speech before the European Parliament in 2010 that Brussels had a legitimate claim to be the “capital of the free world”. Biden has paid lip service in the past to the importance of the partnership with Britain, but he views the transatlantic alliance largely through the lens of the US/EU relationship, attaching great value to the Paris-Berlin-Brussels axis that has ruled continental Europe for the last few decades.
There should be a furious response in London to the Biden administration’s demands of the British government. President Biden needs to mind his own business. It is not his place to lecture the British Prime Minister and British officials about Northern Ireland and Brexit. Joe Biden should keep his sneering anti-British and anti-Brexit views to himself. At the G7 this week, Boris Johnson must stand up to Biden, and remind him that he, and not the US president, represents the democratic will of the British people.
This piece originally appeared in The Telegraph