--first published in The New European--
What was the purpose of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic this week? To rational observers, Biden stopped in Belfast to celebrate the Good Friday Agreement, highlight the vital role of international cooperation in brokering the deal, and encourage Northern Ireland’s political leaders to return to power-sharing. The Windsor Framework, as Biden rightly pointed out, can be a continuation of this collaborative spirit.
But if you ask the likes of Arlene Foster, he came to meddle in Northern Ireland’s democratic process (very different from an extreme minority suspending government) and tell the UK it should bend the knee to the EU because he “hates the UK”.
Now, the demotion of Sunak’s ‘bilateral meeting’ to a coffee date and the downgrading of his Good Friday Agreement celebration to an unenthusiastic stump speech probably has more to do with the fact that there is less to celebrate with Stormont in deep freeze. But with reception like the one offered by Arlene; it’s little wonder he raced across the border to spend the bulk of his visit in the Republic.
Despite the objections of the First Minister turned GB News host, Biden’s praise of the Windsor Framework makes perfect sense. All US Presidents should want the UK and the EU to have a more constructive relationship; it enhances both and strengthens global liberal democracy against rising authoritarianism.
The hard-right’s hand-wringing over Biden’s Windsor Framework positivity is not the first time Brexiters have badly played the ‘global’ part of Global Britain During Biden’s tenure, the two preceding Prime Ministers have drawn his ire with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. And before Brexit took effect, the UK’s messy breakup from the EU did little to improve the prospects of a trade deal under the shifting whims of Donald Trump.
It's not just the US. Seven years of nativism from the UK Government have upset the Canadians, the Indians, and the Albanians, and many more. It’s easy to see why. Productive international relations require stability, pragmatism, and good faith - all previously British virtues. Recently, the Government’s threats to break international agreements and our appalling treatment of refugees (including Afghan allies) have likely convinced allies outside the EU that the UK will provide none of the three. When our Prime Minister publicly ponders whether the President of France is a friend or foe, what message does that send to countries further afield?
Post-Brexit treaties like the fabled deals with the US and India require these nations to see the UK as an attractive partner. A Government that threatens to ignite regulatory chaos on a whim and gut human rights protections paints the UK as inflexible, short-termist and morally bankrupt.
Conversely, continuing closer dialogue with the EU and returning to our internationalist principles presents us with far greater and more desirable opportunities than Mogg’s regulatory race to the bottom.
For example, pursuing regulatory alignment with the EU could incentivise American businesses to push for more trade with the UK as a beachhead to Europe, a promise Biden explicitly made during his short visit to Northern Ireland.
Rejoining EU programmes open to non-members, like Horizon Europe and Erasmus would significantly restore the UK’s reputation as a global leader in science and higher education and open up new innovation and cross-border connections which stimulate trade both in the short and long term.
Most importantly, the UK needs a better negotiating position for future agreements. In their desperation to find tabloid-friendly post-Brexit ‘wins’, the Government has saddled us with raw deals that undercut UK businesses and make a mockery of our net zero commitments.
To achieve a stronger negotiating foothold, we need a strong economy. A stronger economy requires removing the barriers to trade created by Brexit–these led the IMF to predict the UK will have the lowest growth in the G7 this year. Smarter economic policy will beget higher-quality trade agreements, and businesses, economists, and the markets are unanimous: the smartest decision is fixing Johnson’s dud Brexit deal.
Since 2016, countries around the world–both old friends and potential new partners–have been watching the UK’s political farce and deciding they either want nothing to do with us, or they want to take us for all we’re worth. As Biden’s positive sentiment demonstrates, the Windsor Framework can dispel such notions and begin to reintroduce the UK as a sensible global partner.
The Prime Minister can’t let intransigent Brexiters derail this progress, lest the UK go back to its failed strategy of screaming obscenities at the EU through a bullhorn and pretending the rest of the world can’t hear.