Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and “The Previous President”

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

It is probably no exaggeration to say that Donald Trump in all likelihood views BoJo Johnson as his sidekick. They have their birthplace in common, and when they meet it won’t be a surprise if they always began by congratulating each other on this.

BoJo seems much more at ease in Trump’s company than, say, that of the stolid Angela Merkel.

Frau Dr Merkel is probably several notches above the 2 men when it comes to IQ levels, and given their shared predilection for pouting blondes with chest measurements that in some instances almost match the IQs of those thus measured, Chancellor Merkel is highly unlikely to qualify as favoured company for these 2 “manly” men.

But now we have Joe Biden about to move into the White House.

Biden has signalled openly that his dealings with Europe will be conducted via Berlin and not London.

So what does BoJo now do without his pal Trump in the White House?

Like Trump, BoJo is a child of privilege, a narcissist, bully, racist, lifelong philanderer, fantasist, chronic liar, a frequenter of sunny islands owned by the super-rich (some of them rather dodgy), an aficionado of certain stimulative powders, someone congenitally averse to putting in a full shift at work (this burden falls on their minions), friend of dictators, a hazard to his body mass index, and possessing a certain carelessness of other lives (evident in their responses to the Covid pandemic). They only thing they don’t have in common is a golfing addiction.

Like Trump, Johnson is hugely inconsistent. He hops to one notion (we’re locking-down, so stay home). Then he hops to something else (Joe and Jane Normal, it’s time you got back to work, and your kids back to school). Then he hops back to his original notion (Joe and Jane, it’s back to lockdown, now that you’ve used our government-issued coupons at bars and pizza joints).

The bars and pizza joints turned out to be clusters spreading the virus, something medical experts had said was bound to happen if people congregated indoors.

Biden’s antipathy towards BoJo goes back to comments the latter made when he was mayor of London— BoJo writing then that Obama’s decision to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office was a “symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British empire”.

BoJo, who has a long history of racist comments, sent the obligatory congratulatory message to Biden on his election success, and, not unexpectedly, Obama’s former press official Tommy Vietor responded by calling him a “shape-shifting creep”, saying: “We will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump”.

Senator Chris Coons of Connecticut – who is on a list of those tipped to become secretary of state when Biden is inaugurated – also said that BoJo’s comments about Obama were “not well received”.

The congratulatory message sent by BoJo despite being addressed to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, nonetheless had the word “Trump” showing faintly in the background of the message.

It seemed that BoJo’s office had had originally prepared a message to celebrate a Trump win, only to replace it with one acknowledging Biden’s victory after media outlets called the race for him.

BoJo’s office blamed the glitch on a “technical error”— the computer-age equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” excuse of bygone times. The Guido Fawkes website which also noted barely visible words stating “the future” and “second term” in the background, again a reference to Trump.

The Huffington Post commented:

Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was an “own goal” and “everybody’s now commenting all around the world that the British Government couldn’t even work out who it was congratulating because they hadn’t deleted the original properly”.

The “shape-shifting creep” is of course not the only Ukanian politician with a history of racist comments.

There were immediate calls for the former Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Lord John Kilclooney to be censured after he referred to vice-president elect Kamala Harris as “the Indian” on Twitter. It was not the first time Kilclooney has been accused of racism– he had previously described then-Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar as “a typical Indian”.

Kilclooney claims there was “nothing racist” in his tweet, which read: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?”

Fellow politicians have called on him to delete the tweet and apologize, and Kilclooney has been reported to the Commissioner for Standards and to the Speaker of the House of Lords.

The other potential point of conflict between Biden (who takes immense pride in his Irish ancestry) and BoJo is his concern that BoJo’s decision to press on with legislation intended to override the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland will undermine the Good Friday Agreement that has served as the basis for peace between the north and the south of Ireland for decades.

BoJo signed a deal with the EU that would retain a soft border between the north and the south of Ireland, which is the cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement. He then realized that a soft border between the Republic of Ireland and Ukanian Northern Ireland would effectively allow EU goods to move into the UK via the north of Ireland without any tariff barriers.

The shifty-eyed BoJo now wants to back out, unilaterally, on what is basically a treaty under international law, and received a harsh response from Biden via Twitter:

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period”.

As if to reinforce Biden’s tweet, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said: “It’s my view that even if we do get an agreement in terms of a future relationship that if there is still a threat by the [UK] to legislate to undermine Withdrawal Agreement and break international law I don’t believe that any future relationship agreement will be ratified”.

The UK is searching desperately for trade deals with other countries to replace the “frictionless” trade it shared with the 27 countries who belong to the EU, and BoJo grovelled before Trump in nausea-inducing ways in order to get one.

Biden now promises to administer a stiff arm to BoJo’s face on a possible US-UK trade deal if the UK breaks this treaty and imposes a hard border between the two parts of Ireland.

BoJo’s proposed hard-border legislation is currently making its way through both houses of parliament.

With their 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, the Tories got the bill passed there.

However, when the bill was sent to the House of Lords, a big defeat was inflicted on the government— the Lords voted 433 to 165 to remove parts of BoJo’s Northern Ireland Brexit protocol designed to create the hard border between the north and south of Ireland.

The Lords tabled amendments to the bill, which will now be returned to the Commons for further debate and another vote.

The Lords can only delay the progress of the bill as it becomes law, but every opposing step will allow the Biden administration more opportunities to make a US-UK trade deal conditional on the obviation of the hard Irish border desired by BoJo and his fellow Brexiters.

After Trump was inaugurated as president in 2017, BoJo’s predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May, scurried to the White House to make her obeisances before the orange monster, who of course lapped-up everything May put on for his benefit.

Trump even held her seemingly unwarm hand as they walked up to the White House podium. But then everything about May conveys the impression of a limp formality.

With the new US president, Angela Merkel and other EU leaders will probably get to the White House before the “shape-shifting creep” receives an invitation to do so.

In the words of a Biden surrogate: the US has a “special relationship” with the UK, and not Boris Johnson.

BoJo, though, may have started mending fences with the Biden team when he referred, prematurely, to Trump as the “previous president” in parliament last week while reporting to Members on a “refreshing” and “excellent” phone conversation he just had with Biden.

BoJo’s loyalties are to himself only (another trait he shares with Trump)– he’s realized quickly that Trump is acting like a squatter in the White House, and so is making a speedy “shape-shift” towards the next president.

The old-hand Biden may be somewhat senile, but in all likelihood he won’t be fooled.

In an unrelated development, BoJo’s Rasputin-like chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who was thought to run the country (with BoJo only attending to the PR side of his job), has been sacked with immediate effect.

As infighting grew in Downing Street, the “career psychopath” (as even some Tories describe him) was alleged to have briefed the press against BoJo, causing their relationship to “fall off a cliff”. More details are bound to follow.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.