DOWNING Street has played down claims the Prime Minister is delaying talks with Europe until after the US presidential election.
Ivan Rogers, who was the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels from 2013 to 2017, told The Observer that ministers in several European capitals believe the Tory leader is trying to stall until the result of next week’s vote is known.
But speaking yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted that wasn’t the case.
“The two things are entirely separate,” he said. “On EU negotiations … they’ve come back, I’m very glad to say, to discuss the way forward, we’ll see where we go.”
On the US election, Johnson said he wouldn’t be “getting involved” in the process.
It comes as the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier delayed his return to Brussels to remain in the UK for intensive discussions with British counterpart Lord David Frost.
He had been expected to return on Sunday. However, the decision to stay, is believed to be partly related to soaring coronavirus infection rates in Brussels.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are in now what is an intensive phase of negotiations.
“I wouldn’t wish to pre-empt what’s being discussed. It’s the first time that we have been negotiating on legal texts and across all areas at the same time and we have welcomed that fact.
“But there is also much work to be done if we are going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas and time is very short.”
In his interview with the paper, Rogers said: “Several very senior sources 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 said that if Trump won he and others in Europe believed Johnson would think “history was going his way”.
“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.
“They believe him to have been an early and vigorous supporter of Trump, and that Brexiteer thinking – which they think has damaged the unity of the West – has many parallels with Trumpism.
“So I really doubt there will be much warmth in the personal relationship.
“And Biden’s would simply not be an administration which viewed European integration as a negative.
“The UK’s absence from the EU will make it clearly less influential because it can no longer lead European thinking on the geo-strategic issues which will matter hugely to Biden.
“So [Biden] will put Berlin and Paris – and indeed Brussels – back at the heart of US thinking: not uncritically, because the US will still have serious issues with EU approaches on economic and security issues..”
Anthony Salamone from the Edinburgh Merchants political analysis firm said it would be “highly irresponsible” for the UK government to “frame its Brexit decisions based on the US election”.
He added: “Since Trump supports Brexit and dislikes the EU, he is unlikely to be phased much by a No-Deal Brexit if he is re-elected president. Biden does not back Brexit, supports the EU and is very invested in Ireland. If elected, Biden would surely not approve of the negative impacts of a no-deal Brexit on Northern Ireland.
“In any case, Brexit should not be determined by the US election. This kind of short-term political calculation by the UK government symbolises the Brexit populism which has taken over Westminster politics.”
The SNP’s Alyn Smith wasn’t entirely taken with Rogers’s hypothesis. “I think this latest theory credits the UK Government with more strategic nouse than it actually has,” he said.
The Stirling MP added: “Some of the wilder eyed Brexiters have clung to the forlorn hope that, somehow, President Trump would save their bacon in an act of selfless generosity he is hardly known for, and the penny is only now dropping that he might not be around and they’ve left themselves with no pals.”