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BREXIT

OPINION: Why Biden’s victory could have a big impact on Brexit negotiations

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain believes the change at the helm of US politics will be prove a decisive factor in the UK’s willingness to compromise over a Brexit deal.

OPINION: Why Biden's victory could have a big impact on Brexit negotiations
President Elect Joe Biden. Photo: AFP

You have probably noticed that America is soon to have a new president. The current White House incumbent has his ears and eyes firmly closed and refuses to accept that his days are numbered. According to some sources in the UK media, our own head of state, Boris Johnson, may be in a similarly insecure position.

Since Joe Biden officially became the President Elect on Saturday, after what seemed like days of election uncertainty, he has hit the ground running. Despite not yet receiving any recognition of his win or offer of transitional support from Donald Trump, he has already started to implement important plans.

An urgent task for Biden is the fight against coronavirus. He has created a special task force, comprising health officials, physicians and virology experts. He has also actively encouraging the wearing of face masks by the American public – unlike Trump, who was pictured without one even when he was Covid positive.

The contrast between Biden and Trump could not be starker. In January, the American people will finally have an adult in charge: one who has a heart, a brain and a wealth of experience. The change will leave many UK residents feeling jealous that we are being led by “Britain’s Trump”.

Prime Minister Johnson and Biden have never met, though they have now spoken on the phone.  On Tuesday, Biden spoke with a number of European leaders, including Ireland’s Michael Martin. Biden reassured the Irish Taoiseach that Brexit must not damage the Good Friday Agreement, in a call that Martin described as “warm and engaging”.

On his call with Johnson, Biden stressed the importance of securing a Brexit deal that protects peace in Northern Ireland. Presumably, Biden’s earlier reference to Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump, was not mentioned.

Biden has made no secret of his disdain for Brexit and is fiercely loyal to, and proud of, his Irish roots.

Johnson’s Internal Market Bill (IMB) is a cause of consternation in America, as it threatens to break the international treaty of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

The deal that Johnson signed with the EU a year ago, settling the early stages of Brexit – including our rights as citizens – is under significant threat, along with the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

Both Biden and the US government have made it clear that, as guarantors to the GFA, they will refuse any trade deal with the UK if Johnson reneges on his international commitments.

On Monday, the controversial IMB was given short shrift by the House of Lords. In a significant government defeat, even staunch Conservative Brexit supporters expressed their outrage at the government’s plans.

Yet, despite the opposition, Johnson insists that the controversial clauses the Lords removed will be reinstated when the bill returns to the Commons in December. The prime minister and his cabinet insist that the clauses exist for the protection of the GFA, rather than being a threat– an argument accepted by only his most loyal supporters.

Of course, what happens in December depends on the ongoing Brexit negotiations with the EU. The change at the helm of US politics could be a decisive factor in the UK’s willingness to compromise over a deal.

The behaviour of certain Brexiter backbenchers is doing nothing to improve relations with the new political leaders in the USA. Iain Duncan Smith told Biden to “butt out” of UK domestic policy and let the UK “get on with our legislation”.

John Redwood went further, sending a “warning letter” to the president elect, saying that our mandate (for Brexit) was bigger than his mandate (for being president). As if Johnson’s own behaviour, both past and present, isn’t already causing concern across the pond, we have to listen to the Conservative equivalent of my dad is bigger than your dad!

While our prime minister still seems to believe that he – or at least the UK – has a special relationship with America, the Democratic party clearly disagrees. Johnson’s racist comments are coming back to haunt him and his close association with Trump is disliked by the new administration.

When Johnson eventually congratulated Biden in a tweet, former Obama press aide, Tommy Vietor, responded by calling him a “shapeshifting creep”, adding, “we will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump”.

Try as we might, the era of Trump, and the UK’s Poundland version, isn’t so quick to erase from our collective memory.

When hurtful words, deeds and policies have affected so many lives, the healing process will take time. We hope that our own battle with dishonest, racist, self-serving politics will soon be over.

If we could also rid ourselves of the toxicity in the Home Office, so much the better. I never again want to listen to Home Secretary, Priti Patel, gloating about how “delighted” she is to remove our freedom of movement.

A change is coming, whether it’s the Prime Minister’s choice or one forced on him by his “loyal” party. We can only hope the cure isn’t worse than the disease, and that Britain will soon find its very own Biden and see a return to caring, outward-looking politics.

You never know… we might even renew links with our wonderful European neighbours. If there’s one gift President Elect Biden gave us last weekend, it was hope.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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SPAIN AND THE UK

Liz Truss: What does the new UK PM mean for Brits in Spain?

Following the announcement that Liz Truss will replace Boris Johnson as the UK’s new Prime Minister, political correspondent Conor Faulkner analyses what this could mean for Brexit and the 400,000 UK nationals who reside in Spain.

Liz Truss: What does the new UK PM mean for Brits in Spain?

On Monday September 5th, it was announced that members of UK’s Conservative party had finally elected a new leader and thus a new Prime Minister, after Boris Johnson was forced to resign at the start of the summer.

Beating rival Rishi Sunak with 57 percent of the vote, just 80,000 Conservative party members elected the former Foreign Secretary as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

READ ALSO: ‘Iron weathercock’ – Europe reacts to Liz Truss becoming new UK PM

But what, if anything, does her election mean for Brexit and the 400,000 Britons living in Spain? 

Will she be a continuity politician or will she forge a new path (for better or worse) in British-European relations?

Truss the Remainer

During the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Liz Truss campaigned for Remain. “I don’t want my daughters to live in a world where they have to apply for a visa to work in Europe,” she famously said.

Having once been a member of the Liberal Democrats and decidedly more pro-European, Truss’s conversion to Euroscepticism came after she had voted Remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum.

Did the much hallowed Brexit benefits become clear to her in the aftermath of the result? Possibly. Or, as Brexit became a litmus test of loyalty and Conservatism, did her position shift to fit the intra-party politics of her party?

Although one may hope that her former pro-European positions might mean a softening in UK-EU relations in the post-Johnson era, Truss’s dependence on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative parliamentary party during her leadership campaign suggests she may be kneecapped in her ability to strike compromises with the EU.

Truss the Foreign Secretary

Owing to Truss’s tendency to be a bit of a political flip-flopper and change her positions at the whim of career progression, it is therefore quite difficult to predict her future behaviour with regards to Spain. We can, however, make some educated guesses based on her time as Foreign Secretary.

Going off her tenure in the Foreign Office, it seems Truss may view relations with Spain more positively than perhaps with other EU member states or the block as a whole.

In December 2021, Truss travelled to Madrid to meet with her then counterpart José Manuel Albares to build “closer economic, tech and security ties” with Spain, and to “support” the 400,000 Britons living in Spain. 

“We’re significant trading partners, with the UK as Spain’s biggest European investor,” she said, “and the UK as the top destination for Spanish investment. By boosting our trading ties even further, both Spain and every region and nation of the UK will benefit.”

Yet, Truss has also strongly hinted that she would be willing to overhaul Article 16 and put the Northern Ireland protocol at risk. If she is willing to jeopardise peace and potentially break international law to appease her political base in England, particularly within her own parliamentary party, one must wonder about the seriousness with which a few hundred thousand Brits up and down Spain’s costas will be taken. 

Reaction in Spain

Spain’s leading newspaper El País believes Truss will continue the populist strategy of Johnson. Truss was, even in her acceptance speech on Monday, loyal to her predecessor. 

She “promises citizens a rose-tinted future, without clarifying how she intends to achieve it”, the paper believes.

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, told The Local that she expects Truss to “carry on with the policies of Johnson, and be led, presumably, by the same right-wing forces of the Conservative Party.

“I suspect that, as far as what affects British citizens in Spain, that continuity will simply mean we remain invisible and left to our own devices,” Wilson added.

“Britons in Spain have been left in bureaucratic limbo since the Brexit vote six years ago. Whether it be the ongoing confusion over driving licenses or renewing residency or getting new TIE cards, many Britons abroad have felt abandoned by the UK government.”

Wilson and other members of Bremain in Spain will take part in the National Rejoin March in London on Saturday September 10th to “deliver a warning to the new PM about the impact of Brexit on the spiralling cost of living crisis in the UK”,  to express a “clear and loud message” that “Brexit has failed” and to promote “Rejoin the EU” as a “mainstream” call to action.

“For six years now, Brits living in Europe have been dealing with fear, uncertainty and stress, thanks to Brexit. We have already lost important rights, and many are concerned that even those secured could be at risk. Truss plans to proceed with the Protocol Bill which threatens the legally binding international treaty that secured those limited rights. In the process, she seems determined to do further damage to UK/EU relations and our international reputation.”

Anne Hernández, head of Brexpats in Spain, told The Local Spain: “Our problem as Brits in Spain might be if she actually applies Article 16, meaning a no deal Brexit, and she has threatened that. Although I’m not sure how that might affect our rights.”

The overriding feeling among UK nationals in Spain about Truss in No. 10 is the feeling of trepidation that Hernández describes.

With its fourth leader in six years and the third to take the helm of Britain in the post-Brexit world, for Brits abroad Truss’ rise to Downing Street has prolonged that uncertainty. 

With her apparent willingness to simply tear up internationally binding agreements, many will worry if the situation in Spain will be taken back to square one.

One would hope that her previously positive interactions with the Spanish state could mean that she lends a hand in resolving some of these lingering administrative issues affecting Britons in Spain, but the propensity to change her politics when it suits her make this unpredictable, and her reliance on Eurosceptic forces within her party make it unlikely.

How about Gibraltar?

This unpredictability could be of particular concern for UK nationals in Gibraltar. After voting Remain by a whopping 96 percent, the tiny British territory was not included in the main Brexit deal that came into effect from January 2021, and complicated multilateral negotiations between Gibraltar, London, Madrid and Brussels have rumbled on without resolution. 

Truss’ rhetoric on Gibraltar during her tenure as Foreign Secretary was as combative as her anti-EU talking points during the Tory leadership campaign, continuing the us-against-them language: “We will continue to defend the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”

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