IT appears that Boris Johnson is going to get a taste of what American power really means. A delegation of influential US congress representatives is due to arrive in London within days, signalling real anger in the White House at the Tory Party as it threatens to tear up the Brexit treaty Johnson negotiated with the EU and thereby endanger the Northern Ireland peace process.
Are we looking at another Suez Crisis moment? In 1956, Britain invaded Egypt after the Cairo government nationalised the Suez Canal. America was outraged and threatened dire consequences for Britain’s economy. The UK buckled, and withdrew humiliated. The moment is seen to mark the definitive ‘end of Empire’ and a shift by the UK to an effective vassal state of Washington.
American has one ultimate sanction against the UK: a trade deal. If the Johnson government – desperate to show that Brexit can work – crosses America over Ireland, then any hopes of trade deals could vanish in a moment. Barack Obama already said while in office that London would find itself “at the back of the queue” when it came to a post-Brexit trade deal.
One of the congressmen coming to Britain is Richie Neal, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has huge influence over any future trade deals. He’s said that although a deal is “desirable”, it won’t happen if there’s “any jeopardy” to the Good Friday Agreement.
Britons may not like to admit it, but that post-Suez subservience to America continues. There is no ‘special relationship’ in Washington’s eyes – that’s a figment of British imaginations.
President Joe Biden is emotionally tied to Ireland. Many diplomats will privately tell you that if there’s one real ‘special relationship’ that Washington has then it’s with Dublin. Successive American presidents – particularly Bill Clinton – put peace in Northern Ireland just as high on their agenda as peace in the Middle East.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, says that America now plans to appoint its own envoy to Northern Ireland.
Johnson’s former Brexit minister, Lord Frost – once dubbed a ‘useful idiot’ – just played perhaps the most stupid hand in international diplomatic poker when he threatened America, telling Biden not to give Britain “lectures” after the US state department urged London to continue talks with Europe.
Frost claimed Biden doesn’t understand the “niceties” of Northern Ireland, adding: “It’s our country that faced the Troubles. We don’t need lectures from others about the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.”
The EU isn’t going to budge on the treaty – meaning Johnson’s bluff will be called. If he does act to shred the treaty, then he kills a trade deal with America. It’s a humiliating lose-lose whichever way he turns.
Johnson would trash the UK’s reputation on the world’s stage if he reneges on the Brexit treaty. Former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell has said: “It’s not a good look for a leading member of the international community, and one of the permanent five members of the UN, to sign a treaty and then unilaterally disavow it.”
What makes Johnson’s threat to undermine the rule of law even more astonishing is that just this week he offered written security assurances to Sweden and Finland, as the pair prepare to join Nato. If he can shred a promise to Europe, then why not this promise too?
But Johnson seems to have no coherent foreign policy. Destroying the Brexit treaty amid war in Ukraine would undermine Britain’s relations with Europe at a time when unity is needed to deal with Putin. Johnson simply wounds Britain whatever he does.