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“More of an Exorcism Than an Election”: Priya Gopal on What Biden Win Means for Britain & Ireland

StoryNovember 12, 2020
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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been one of President Trump’s closest international allies. How will he adapt to working with a Biden administration? Cambridge professor Priya Gopal says Johnson was clearly betting on a Trump reelection, especially amid Britain’s exit from the European Union. “I think they were certainly hoping that there would be a Trump victory,” says Gopal. “Brexit and Trump, as Trump quite correctly recognized, are very deeply in sync.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today in Britain. We end our look at the world’s reaction to U.S. presidential election in the United Kingdom, where, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was questioned by Labour MP Angela Eagle about his relationship to Trump and the incoming Biden-Harris administration.

ANGELA EAGLE: Does the prime minister now have any advice for his erstwhile best friend, President Trump, whose continuing refusal to accept the result is both embarrassing for him and dangerous for American democracy?

SPEAKER: Prime minister.

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Well, Mr. Speaker, I had — and have — a good relationship with the previous president. I do not resile from that, as it’s the duty of all British prime ministers to have a good relationship with the White House. But I am delighted to find the many areas in which the Biden — the incoming Biden-Harris administration is able to make common cause with us.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly calling his ally Trump “the previous president.”

Well, for more, we go to Cambridge, where we’re joined by Priya Gopal, university professor in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, the author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.

Professor Gopal, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, let’s just get your reaction to the Biden-Harris victory. And, of course, Kamala Harris, the first African American vice president, first woman vice president, first Indian American vice president. You’re from the Indian subcontinent, as well.

PRIYAMVADA GOPAL: Well, I mean, I think, with much of the rest of the world, I share not so much a sense of joy as a sense of relief that, with any luck, Trump will be out in January. I’ve described this election more as an exorcism than an election. I think that even people who are not particularly pro-Biden or otherwise fond of the Democrats are heaving a sigh of relief. And I think that I share that with much of Britain, as well, that, in some sense, the disaster that Trump has been is gone.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Priya, could you say a little about the relationship that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had with Trump? Johnson was known as — by some, as Britain’s Trump, and that when Trump won in 2016, or prior, when he was running for the elections, he said that his victory would be “Brexit plus plus plus.” And now, of course, Britain is confronting its actual exit from the EU in January. And what you expect the Biden administration — how you think the Biden administration will deal with this Brexit issue, and Trump’s relationship with Johnson?

PRIYAMVADA GOPAL: Yeah. I mean, I think that Johnson’s comments in Parliament were disingenuous in the extreme. The fact remains that he was relying, I think, on a good chance of a Trump victory. We know that when he congratulated President-elect Biden, we could see that Trump had been erased just underneath that tweet. I think they were certainly hoping that there would be a Trump victory.

Brexit and Trump, as Trump quite correctly recognized, are very deeply in sync. I think that audiences in America perhaps underestimate the extent to which Brexit has mobilized some of the same forces that Trump unleashed in America — jingoism; extreme nationalism; in the case of Britain, of course, also empire pride; white supremacy. Trump absolutely rightly recognized that he and Brexit were very much allied.

Johnson is indeed Britain’s Trump. Again, because of the sort of cheery exterior and the way in which he bats questions away, people think he’s sort of harmless and a bit clownish. But he’s not. He and others in his administration share a very hard line on Brexit. And, in fact, until Biden’s victory, Britain was moving in the direction of a no-deal Brexit.

Now, I think that one thing that may happen — and we have some evidence that there is disarray in Johnson’s inner circle — is that Biden will — has made very clear his support for the Good Friday Agreement, his absolute opposition to any violation of the Good Friday Agreement. Now, remember, up until now, Britain has been prepared to be an international rogue state and break the withdrawal agreement, in what it calls a specific and limited way, but nonetheless it would be a breach of international law. And I think that Trump’s — Biden’s victory has made this a little less easy for the Johnson government than they might have wanted it to be. I think quite a big spoke has been put in the wheel of hard Brexiteers.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times had an interesting piece, “Would He or Wouldn’t He? Johnson Is Relieved That Biden Called.” You might think that it’s the world leaders calling Biden, but a lot of the time it’s Biden calling them. “The British prime minister made the A team, with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, though pesky Ireland also sneaked in.” And that’s where we’re going to have to end it. I want to ask you, Priya Gopal, about how Ireland plays into this, being that Biden’s family is from Ireland, and the significance of that when it comes to global politics and Brexit.

PRIYAMVADA GOPAL: Well, I think it’s hugely significant. Biden jokingly told the BBC, when he was asked for comment, he said, “I’m Irish.” And I think that that has been welcomed in Ireland. We have the British right wing already going really nuts over the Ireland connection. They’ve been commenting in The Spectator magazine, the right-wing journal, commenting about the weaponization of Ireland against them. I think they have treated Ireland with a degree of callousness and indifference when it comes to Brexit. And I think that Biden’s very clear links with Ireland, which have caused, I think, jubilation in Ireland, have caused a parallel degree of dismay with hard-line right-wing Brexiteers in Britain. And I think that certainly the Irish question is now going to have to be resolved with a great deal more nuance and care than Johnson was originally planning to do.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Priya, very quickly, before we conclude, the comparison with the response in Europe — in France and Germany, in particular — to Biden’s victory?

PRIYAMVADA GOPAL: Well, I think in Europe there has been a degree of pleasure at returning, I think, to business as usual, in both the good and the bad senses of the term. There is a higher degree of comfort with the centrist consensus that Biden will bring back to the U.S.’s engagement with the EU. There is a centrist consensus both in Europe and with the British opposition, the Labour Party. And I think that centrist and liberal forces in Britain and in the EU are welcoming what they feel is a higher degree of comfort in the milieu that Biden belongs to, that NATO will come back onto the table, and the transatlantic partnership, as Angela Merkel put it, will return to some degree of normality, as the European center sees it.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Priya Gopal, professor at University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.

That does it for our show. Special thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Turkey, to Maria Luísa Mendonça speaking about Brazil, and Kumi Naidoo in South Africa. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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