Brexit 5: What will Brexit, Covid and Biden mean for Britain?

Barnier breaks Brexit impasse 

Troubled Brexit talks resumed this week, with negotiators set to work through weekends in pursuit of a deal in the remaining few weeks. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier met Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s demands for re-engagement, making public his intention to “seek the necessary compromises on both sides”.

Senior ministers believe that Barnier’s statement is a genuine climbdown but remain pessimistic about how a compromise can be reached on fishing, which remains the principal stumbling block. For Downing Street, French President Emmanuel Macron’s tough talk on France’s access to British waters is the main barrier to reaching a deal. But Macron has his own fish to fry at home, with one of his main concerns being to face down his far-right and Eurosceptic opponent Marine Le Pen in the 2022 election.

UK reaches trade deal with Japan 

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has signed a bilateral free-trade deal with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Motegi Toshimitsu, the UK’s first major trade deal as an independent trading country. The deal, which is expected to increase trade between the two countries by an estimated £15 billion, will support British car and manufacturing jobs and lower tariffs on products like pork, beef and salmon, according to the government. For Truss, reaching the deal is a step closer to establishing what she describes as “Singapore on Tyne”, as well as an opportunity to present Toshimitsu with some stilton cheese in celebration.

Tensions grow in ‘Red Wall’ areas as Brexit looms 

With Covid-19 restrictions tightening across Northern England and the Midlands, tensions are growing in Conservative-held ‘Red Wall’ seats, many of which, lured by his promise to get Brexit done, helped to deliver Johnson’s electoral victory in 2019. Now, the new wave of Conservative MPs in former Labour strongholds are torn between supporting the government over its handling of local Covid-19 lockdowns on the one hand, and answering to their constituents’ concerns over job losses on the other. With the end of the transition period looming, voters are becoming increasingly concerned that the harm already arising from Covid-19 will be compounded by a no deal Brexit. Even the prospect of a deal is doing little to quash fears: a deal that fails to protect the industries that matter most to the economies in these regions, such as manufacturing, will threaten the Conservative Party’s ‘Red Wall’ strategy and risks prompting voters to shop around for alternative recipients of their votes.

Ireland faces Brexit and Covid “double whammy” 

The governor of Ireland’s Central Bank has this week warned that the Republic will be the Eurozone’s biggest loser from a no-deal Brexit, which threatens to cause an economic “double whammy” alongside the fallout from rising Covid-19 cases.

According to Gabriel Makhlouf, the UK leaving the EU without a deal at the end of this year would knock two percentage points off the country’s economic growth next year, with new tariffs on goods hitting Ireland’s agricultural and food sectors the hardest. Meanwhile, the Irish Government has announced that it will close all non-essential retail businesses and curtail the hospitality sector for six weeks to contain a rapid rise in infections. Makhlouf predicts that such measures will cause the economy to contract again in the final three months of this year.

Biden and Trump clash in last presidential debate  

Across the pond, US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden went head to head in Nashville for the final debate of the campaign. In an exchange that was noticeably calmer than the previous, Trump and Biden clashed over Covid-19, climate change and foreign policy, whilst still characteristically managing to level charges of corruption at each other. With 11 days to go before election day, Biden is enjoying a solid lead.

But what would this mean for Britain? Advisers in the UK are still bitter after Barack Obama’s “back of the queue” quip following the referendum result in 2016, and it is no secret that a Biden victory would install another president hostile to Brexit in the White House. Although Trump’s support for Brexit has turned out to be more rhetorical than practical, Biden, who has proud Irish-American roots, has already emphasised that there will be no US-UK trade deal if Brexit jeopardises the Good Friday Agreement.

In policy circles in the UK, there is little doubt that Biden will prioritise other relationships with foreign powers in the early months of his presidency, including Germany, France, and the EU more generally. Moreover, if Biden is sworn in next January, his priority will be to show the world that the US is moving on from the politics of Trump. This will make the UK feel distinctly, and embarrassingly, left out.

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at