Johnson will wait for US election result before no-deal Brexit decision

Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, says prime minister will think ‘history was going his way’ if Donald Trump is re-elected.

Senior figures in European governments believe Boris Johnson is waiting for the result of the US presidential election before finally deciding whether to risk plunging the UK into a no-deal Brexit, according to a former British ambassador to the EU.

Ivan Rogers, who was the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels from 2013 to 2017, told the Observer that a view shared by ministers and officials he has talked to in recent weeks in several European capitals, is that Johnson is biding his time – and is much more likely to opt for no deal if his friend and Brexit supporter Donald Trump prevails over the Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

Rogers said: “Several very senior sources in capitals have told me they believe Johnson will await clarity on the presidential election result before finally deciding whether to jump to ‘no deal’ with the EU, or to conclude that this is just too risky with Biden heading for the White House, and hence live with some highly suboptimal (for Johnson) skinny free-trade agreement.”

The former ambassador to the EU – who quit under Theresa May’s premiership because of disagreements over Brexit strategy – remains in regular contact with senior government figures in EU capitals. Rogers said that if Trump won he and others in Europe believed Johnson would think “history was going his way” with his rightwing ally still in the White House. The prime minister would therefore be more likely to conclude he could strike a quick and substantial post-Brexit US-UK trade deal than if Biden emerged as president after the 3 November poll. By contrast, a Biden administration would prioritise rebuilding relations with the EU that have been damaged by Trump.

Rogers joined other former UK diplomats last night in warning that a Democratic administration under Biden would prove hugely problematic for Johnson and the UK government, threatening the so-called special relationship. “I don’t think either Biden or his core team are anti-British, but I think they are unimpressed by both Johnson and his top team,” he said.

“In all these giant issues – tech and disinformation and China, and trade, the position of the EU on those issues is just a lot more important than the position of the UK,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy adviser. “For these big ticket items I think that Brussels, Berlin and Paris are just much more in the middle of it all, than London will be.”

Foreign Office and Downing Street officials downplay the prospect of difficulties in the “special relationship” if Biden wins. They point out the UK will have opportunities to take the lead on the world stage and build relations with a new US administration. They cite the fact that the UK will chair the UN security council from February, and the rotating presidency of the G7 from the US, as well as hosting the 26th Conference of Parties (COP 26) on climate change in Glasgow in November 2021.

“Climate is really important,” a British official said. “That’s really going to help because you’ve seen lots of comments from Biden about how important that is to him, and since we are leading on COP, it will be something where they will instantly recognise our value and our importance.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The US election is an internal matter for the US. We welcome the intensive talks taking place with the EU in London over the weekend, where for the first time we will be negotiating on legal texts and across all areas at the same time.

“We’ve been clear in our ambition for what we want to achieve, we want to reach an FTA that respects us as a sovereign nation and we want to achieve this as soon as possible.”