President Biden faces a difficult task smoothing over wrinkles in his relationship with the U.K. as infighting continues to plague the ruling Conservative Party and as the country’s traditionally impartial bureaucracy appears to weigh in on affairs, according to experts.
“Joe Biden has been the most anti-British U.S. president of the modern era,” Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital. “He has treated the British people, the United Kingdom, with tremendous disdain, from sinking a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement through to his refusal to attend the coronation of King Charles.”
Biden arrived Sunday night in Britain ahead of a critical NATO summit this week, with the bloc looking to firm up the details and commitments for a new Ukraine support package and the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine council.
The visit marks the first time Biden has visited since King Charles III took the throne, with Biden famously not attending the coronation on May 6. Biden made sure to call Charles ahead of the event to congratulate him, and the king invited him for a state visit after the coronation, but many Brits still interpreted the move as a snub.
Some hold the view that Biden does not have particular fondness for the U.K., a position born from his strong connection to his Irish roots and the difficulties that have persisted between the Republic of Ireland and Britain.
That age-old friction is just one speed bump among many, according to Gardiner, who also cited Biden’s “intense anti-Brexit … very pro-EU” stance and awkwardness around the administration’s interference in the NATO secretary-general nominations to oppose Britain’s pick of Ben Wallace, currently the U.K.’s secretary of state for defense. Wallace stood as favorite for the position, but failure to secure U.S. support ended his hopes, The Telegraph reported.
“That’s caused a lot of unhappiness in London,” Gardiner noted. “That’s happened just ahead of his visit to the U.K., and that has generated a lot of bad advance publicity, I think, for Joe Biden ahead of his trip.”
“And if you add onto that the reality that Biden and his administration are basically backing Ursula von der Leyen, the European Union Commission president, to be the next head of NATO, that’s seen as very insulting, of course, by the British,” he added.
Alan Mendoza, co-founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital that despite these tensions, Biden’s visit has a chance to “cement the burgeoning relationship between the two leaders.”
“We shouldn’t expect any grand announcements to arise given the substantive discussions that already occurred last month, but the volume of conversations in recent months – and the addition of a meeting with the king this time – underscores an awareness that both countries would do well to work more closely together,” Mendoza said. “The U.K.-U.S. alliance remains pivotal to the future of the free world.”
Biden arrives amid a difficult situation in the U.K., which may limit the impact and value of his trip, as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces something of a mini-revolt in his party and a lack of support: He scored negative approval ratings among his party for the first time since taking office in October, notching a -2.7% after a decent 11.7% last month.
His approval in the traditional “Blue Wall” conservative stronghold region in southern England dropped to -8%, according to a Telegraph report.
Sunak’s approval has suffered partly due to continued drama surrounding Boris Johnson’s exit not only from the role of prime minister last year but his role as a member of Parliament as well. Johnson and several other long-serving party members resigned their seats, with some suggesting they were pushed out from within.
“I would say that there are deep internal divisions within the British Conservative Party and a lot of unhappiness within the grassroots of the Conservative Party over the current leadership, which they see as shifting the Conservative Party to the left,” Gardiner said.
“Also in the background you have down to the efforts by the Civil Service to undermine key aspects of government policy,” he added, citing the government’s inability to tighten immigration law to deal with the “small boat crisis,” which he claimed the Civil Service has opposed and worked to “upend.”
“So, certainly in the U.K., I would say it is not easy for the British government to push through strong, robust conservative policies because you have a Civil Service in place that is very opposed to much of the government’s agenda.”
The Civil Service has come under great scrutiny after Sue Gray, the civil servant charged with heading up the independent investigation into Boris Johnson and his “partygate” COVID-19 scandal, accepted a role as the chief of staff to the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer – subject to approval from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Starmer led the left-wing Labour party.
Johnson wrote in a statement following the release of Gray’s report that he was “being forced out by a tiny handful of people, with no evidence to back up their assertions, and without approval even of Conservative party members let alone the wider electorate.”
“There have long been suspicions that civil servants of a differing political view have been able to stymie the efforts of this government to enact its preferred legislative agenda by throwing up procedural roadblocks along the way,” Mendoza said.
“The furor over a senior civil servant like Sue Gray negotiating a job offer with the Labour Party while still a serving public servant is just the latest example of the sense that the Civil Service’s traditional neutrality may have been eroded,” he said. “The net effect has been to see an Americanization of our system with an increase in political appointees as special advisers to ministers, helping them shepherd ideas through the Whitehall quagmire.”
Biden plans to meet with King Charles III and Sunak on Monday before departing to Vilnius, Lithuania, for the NATO summit on Tuesday.
POST AUTHOR: Peter Aitken