Joe Biden says trade agreements are not a priority, in blow to Boris Johnson’s hopes of a post-Brexit deal

‘I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 02 December 2020 19:29 GMT
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Joe Biden has delivered a fresh blow to Boris Johnson’s hopes of a post-Brexit trade deal, saying “investments here at home” will come first.

The incoming US president – who has already clashed with Downing Street over the Internal Market Bill, which contravenes international law in relation to Northern Ireland – has now put all trade agreements on the back burner.

“I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first,” Mr Biden said, listing education, energy, biotech, advanced materials and artificial intelligence as priorities.

“I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers.”

He also insisted that rural America will not be “forgotten”, potentially throwing up another obstacle if the UK resists opening the door to US agricultural goods, such as acid-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef.

Mr Biden’s home state is Delaware – one of the largest chicken producers in the US – a point that had always appeared to make UK concessions on agriculture a necessity for any deal.

Nick Clegg once insisted that the Democrats had told him: “We are not going to sign anything that the chicken farmers of Delaware don’t like.”

Mr Biden’s interview with the New York Times appeared to underline why he has always been viewed as less likely to rush into an agreement with the UK than Donald Trump, who has been a vocal enthusiast.

On its own, the transition to a new occupant in the White House makes it less likely because any new president must first appoint thousands of new officials, many of whom require confirmation by the Senate.

And, unless the Democrats can win two run-off races next month, the Republicans will continue to control the Senate and be able to create further obstacles.

Although trade experts have agreed that a deal with Washington would deliver negligible economic gains for the UK, securing it has totemic importance for Brexit supporters and their claims of a new “global Britain”.

Mr Biden’s comments came as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned that the trade talks with the bloc would blow up if Mr Johnson persisted in tearing up commitments relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A new “crisis” would break out – with just four weeks to go to avert a no-deal Brexit – if the international law-breaking clauses are reinserted into the Internal Market Bill next week, Mr Barnier said.

A similar clause, giving the UK unilateral powers over Irish Sea trade and overturning the Brexit withdrawal agreement, could also be put into a Taxation Bill, to be published within days.

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