Article Published November 19th, 2020
Biden and the U.S. Congress are dead set against a no-deal Brexit. The Irish lobby isn’t just strong at this time; Biden as an Irish Catholic fully identifies with it. They will not give the UK a trade deal unless the agreement with the EU on Northern Ireland is fully complied with.
Biden will inevitably send the UK to the back of the line for a separate trade deal, unless the UK reaches a strong EU-UK trade deal first. A no-deal Brexit, or pseudo-deal Brexit, will scupper the chances for any US-UK deal to bail out the UK economy, or even relieve its loneliness.
The two questions — Ireland and a serious UK-EU trade deal — are deeply intertwined. If the Government lets itself fall into a minimum-deal Brexit in the hope that they’ll prove separable, it will be in for a rude awakening. I fear we might then have to paraphrase Mr Trotsky, who said human beings have a natural right to be stupid, but they sometimes learn that it is better not to exercise the right.
The other option is to reach a strong UK-EU trade deal, whether by year’s end or with another extension granted irregularly. This would open up a more hopeful trade prospect for the UK: To have an early trade deal with the US, and additionally, to be a special third party in the negotiations for a US-EU trade deal.
Trump never demonized the EU-US (TTIP) negotiations with the EU as he demonized the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Biden will want to revitalize TTIP. This would enable the UK to play its traditional role of a bridge between the US and EU, as an interlocking not interblocking triad.
It would also, inter alia, give Britain the chance to jumpstart this triangular relationship constructively, joining its two closest partners more effectively together. In contrast, a no-deal Brexit would shunt the UK back to its worst instincts in some of the postwar years: playing Europe and the America off against each other, with a result of diminishing all three, as if they were still its 19th century enemies for whose diminution Britain was willing to pay the price of diminishing itself also, rather than in fact its organic and indispensable allies.
The wider prospect
A suggestion has been made for all three — US, UK, and EU — to join TPP. This would require a substantial renegotiation of TPP with these major parties. This would in turn require coordination of their negotiations with TPP. The process might prove simpler if we get a real UK-EU deal, then a US-UK-EU deal, then together join TPP.
It is worth recalling that this would realize a goal of our late friend James Huntley, the Euro-Atlantic federalist who originated Trilateralism in the 1970s, giving the idea to Zbigniew Brzezinski. Together with John Pinder and others from the Federal Trust, Huntley founded the Committees for a Community of Democracies, which had the dual goal of a loose association of all democracies worldwide and a strongly organized community of all the industrial democracies.
The looser part of their goal was achieved in the late 1990s by Madeleine Albright, somewhat confusingly using the name of “Community of Democracies” for it. The stronger part, aimed at a real community rooted in already-impressive but unconnected alliance and trading relationships among the industrial democracies, looks ripe for a step forward in this period, in the form of joining their multiple trading relationships together. It will help greatly in this process if the UK finds the wisdom to make its peace with the EU before Biden enters office in January.
The spirit of the times has shifted with the U.S. election back from nationalism to strong multinational arrangements. The UK can join in this spirit and make a serious deal with the EU, in which case it will add greatly to the mood as well as the practicalities for wider deals with its allies overseas. Or it can sulk and just bug out of the EU, find itself despised by nearly all the world, lose its wider prospects, and plunge instead into a fatal cycle contraction of perspectives as it tears itself apart in its home isles.