On Brexit, Johnson is caught between Biden and his own MPs

Mujtaba Rahman is managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group and the author of POLITICO‘s Beyond the Bubble column.

Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election increases the pressure on Boris Johnson to reach a trade deal with the EU just as talks reach their critical point.

Johnson’s team insist the EU negotiations and U.S. election are “entirely separate,” and his aides are adamant that Biden becoming president-elect will not change their approach.

While Johnson’s primary considerations will be domestic — notably, whether he could sell any deal to his Conservative MPs and voters who backed Brexit — in practice, Biden has dramatically changed the context Johnson now faces, on two fronts.

Firstly, the U.K. prime minister is distrusted by many Democrats, who view him as a Donald Trump-lite populist who enjoyed a good personal relationship with the outgoing president. So Johnson needs to build bridges with Team Biden.

Its initial demand will be that Johnson drops the controversial clauses in the Internal Market Bill which, if passed by parliament, would allow the government to override the Northern Ireland Protocol in last year’s Withdrawal Agreement. Democratic, and some Republican, members of Congress believe this law will undermine the Good Friday Agreement — in which the U.S. in general, and Biden in particular because of his Irish roots, are heavily invested. Biden warned in September there would be no U.S.-U.K. trade deal if Britain presses ahead.

In his phone call with Johnson on Tuesday, Biden emphasized his backing for the peace agreement. But he gave a nervous Number 10 some welcome relief by calling the prime minister in his first outreach to Europe, along with France,

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