The political demise of Donald Trump has caused shockwaves around the globe which could reset international relations and spare us the trauma of a no-deal Brexit.
Last month, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, claimed Boris Johnson was waiting to learn the results of the American election before deciding whether to abandon trade talks with the EU and crash out with no deal.
In an interview with the Observer, he said Johnson would view a second Trump term as “history going his way” – a cosmic signal the gods were smiling on deranged plans for a no-deal Brexit. A Trump victory would have set in place a chain of events that Johnson hoped would inexorably lead to a significant US-UK trade deal being agreed with speed.
A prime minister gambling the fates of 66 million UK residents on an American election may sound far-fetched, but when one considers Johnson’s entire political ideology is a threadbare lottery it becomes more credible. Not to mention that Rogers, a highly respected diplomat, is much less prone to hyperbole and deception than Johnson.
Brexit, for Johnson, started with a gamble – when he wrote two columns, one in favour and one against, and only decided which one to publish the night before he started campaigning in the 2016 referendum. It is therefore fitting it should end with yet another desperate throw of the dice, albeit this time the results have not gone in his favour.
Johnson’s misplaced confidence in a Trump victory was even etched on his congratulatory message to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. A close examination of the statement released on Twitter revealed a pre-prepared message congratulating Trump had been clumsily edited to change Trump’s name to Biden’s.
As world leaders began congratulating Biden, perhaps Johnson didn’t have time to draw up a new statement and instead rushed out a botched job – managing to make a mess of even a simple congratulatory message. Not the most auspicious start for a beleaguered Johnson, who will soon be at the mercy of a Biden presidency, and Democrat controlled House of Representatives, when he attempts to start trade negotiations.
There are now just 50 days until the UK’s transition period ends and no sign yet the UK is either close to a deal or adequately prepared for the multitude of challenges that an end to EU membership will bring.
Yesterday, it was reported that the Department of International Trade is unlikely to meet a deadline this week to table continuity trade agreements, worth in excess of £80bn, with 15 countries including Canada, Turkey and Singapore.
These continuity agreements would allow the UK to continue trading with non-EU countries on terms similar to those that currently exist, until new deals can eventually be negotiated. If they are not prepared in time, trade reverts to much less favourable WTO terms.
Meanwhile, British hauliers have warned the UK is “sleepwalking into a disaster” with its border preparations as the infrastructure necessary to facilitate free trade and smooth supply chains will not be functional by January 2021. To make matters even worse for Johnson, his asinine attempt to wriggle out of the Northern Ireland protocol, and commitment to an open border on the island of Ireland, was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Lords on Monday.
Controversial provisions of the Internal Markets Bill, which sought to renounce international law, were voted down by 433 to 268, with even Brexiter members like former Tory leader Michael Howard voting against the measures in disgust.
Given Johnson’s evident superstition, and belief in portents, there may now be some grounds to hope he will view Trump’s defeat, and a succession of domestic travails, as harbingers of his own potential political downfall if he continues to treat Brexit as some kind of parlour game.
Trump’s loss is a sign that nationalistic populism is not the unstoppable juggernaut many had supposed. The reality TV host turned demagogue may have secured an impressive 70 million votes, but Biden still beat him with a resounding twin victory of the electoral college and popular vote – even if an embittered Trump will never concede it.
Johnson, having aligned his fortunes so closely with Brexit, has to find some way to make it work. Or, at the very least, avoid disaster. Otherwise, he will be doomed to join Trump in political exile, ousted by the electorate at the first available opportunity.
There are already signs the British public’s patience with project Brexit is wearing thin. A YouGov poll at the weekend revealed 50pc think Brexit was a mistake compared to 38pc who believe it was the right decision – with the numbers opposed swelling by eight points since September. Coupled with this, 61pc of respondents said the UK government was handling Brexit negotiations badly.
To add to Johnson’s considerable woes, another recent poll found a large majority, 64pc, believe a no-deal Brexit would be a bad outcome, with even those areas most associated with Brexit, in the northeast and northwest, showing strong opposition to the prospect a no deal exit.
As the delusion of an imminent glorious no-deal Brexit turns to ash, what is a self-serving hypocrite like Johnson to do? Johnson’s commitment to Brexit was only ever based on the notion, correct as it transpired, it would bolster his political career and propel him to Number 10. Now that he is hurtling towards catastrophe, he may be motivated to find some way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and treat negotiations with the seriousness and gravity they deserve.
If the talks fail and the UK crashes out of the EU at the end of the year, Trump won’t be there to save Johnson. Instead, Biden will be waiting to punish him for endangering the Good Friday Agreement.