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‘Mistaken’ to think Boris Johnson wanted a second term for Donald Trump, says former civil service chief

Andrew Woodcock
·4-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson will be pleased that Donald Trump has not been re-elected for a second term as president, the former head of the civil service has said.

Mark Sedwill, who was forced out as cabinet secretary by Johnson last year but received the consolation of a peerage and a £250,000 payoff, said it was “mistaken” to believe the prime minister had been hoping for a Trump victory over Joe Biden

Writing in the Daily Mail on Mr Trump’s final full day in office, Lord Sedwill said there was “relief” in Western capitals that “normal diplomatic relationships will be restored” under Mr Biden after four years when US leadership went missing.

“Based on my time working for Boris Johnson in Downing Street, I believe those who have said he would have preferred a second Trump term are mistaken,” said Lord Sedwill. “That would not have been to the benefit of British or European security, to transatlantic trade, let alone the environmental agenda to which the prime minister is so committed.”

But Downing Street refused to say whether the PM was glad at the handover of power in Washington.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister always has a strong relationship with whoever is in the White House. That was the case with President Trump and it will be the case with President Biden.”

Mr Johnson faces a struggle to overcome the distrust of the incoming president, who has previously described the prime minister as “a physical and emotional clone” of Trump.

Despite having described Mr Trump as “out of his mind” and unfit for the presidency prior to his 2016 election victory, Mr Johnson changed his tune sharply once the reality TV star was installed in the White House, describing him as having “many, many good qualities” and suggesting he could win the Nobel Peace Prize.

His efforts were rewarded by the president hailing him as “Britain Trump” and becoming one of the few leaders of friendly nations to back his Brexit project.

It was not until after the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters that the PM allowed himself a note of criticism, saying the president was “completely wrong” to encourage the rioters and cast doubt on the results of last year’s election.

On the eve of Mr Biden’s inauguration, Lord Sedwill - who was also national security adviser under Mr Johnson and Theresa May - warned that the arrival of the new administration would not all be plain sailing for the UK.

Despite intensive lobbying from London for an early post-Brexit trade deal with the US, Mr Biden’s priorities in his first months in office will be domestic, as he seeks to control the Covid pandemic and “restore harmony and dignity to American politics”, said Sedwill.

And internationally, the incoming president’s agenda will be dominated by China and not the “special relationship” with the UK.

The Biden team is “deeply unhappy” over last month’s EU investment agreement with Beijing, and might reduce Washington’s commitment to military defence of Europe, warned Sedwill.

“Might President Biden or a future president take at face value EU talk of 'strategic autonomy' outside of the traditional Nato umbrella, and leave them, and us in Britain, to handle the threats to European security ourselves?” he asked.

“Despite repeated demands from Washington, the EU's defence expenditure is only half Britain's rate and a third of America's, fragmented across 27 countries, despite an ever-growing threat in our own neighbourhood from Russia and instability to Europe's south and east. We need our continental partners to invest more in effective security and defence.”

Lord Sedwill stressed the need for Western allies in the UK, EU and US to put the “frictions” of recent years - including Brexit - behind them and work together on a “consistent coherent and comprehensive consensus” on China. The UK’s presidency of the G7 in 2021 will give Mr Johnson an opportunity to shape that consensus, he said.

“The key is for the western democracies to put the frictions of the past few years behind us, remember that what unites us far outweighs our differences, and recognise that if we present a united front we can ensure our values and interests prevail in the 21st century just as they did in the 20th,” he wrote.

“With Brexit accomplished and the Biden administration ready to re-engage, this is the moment for 'global Britain' to step up to that challenge.”

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