After days of government ministers declining to take a public stance on the US election, Boris Johnson has congratulated Joe Biden on his victory. The Democrat's lead in Pennsylvania prompted several US networks to call the election for Biden and the Prime Minister then released a statement on social media:
Johnson's message of congratulations came after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon sent their own messages of support. It also comes despite Donald Trump and his team insisting that the result is not final and suggesting they will contest it. That Johnson has chosen to mark Biden's victory regardless shows that the UK government believes there is little merit in Trump's claims of voter fraud.
So, what next? The expectation in government is that Johnson will not be at the top of Biden's list when it comes to phone calls or initial visits. Instead, ministers believe Biden will focus his attention on Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Already one former Barack Obama adviser has criticised Johnson for his message – saying 'we will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump but neat Instagram graphic', in a reference to an op-ed Johnson wrote after the then president suggested the UK could fare best in the EU.
However, that 'neat instagram graphic' does give a clear indicator of the areas on which Johnson believes he will be able to build ties with the president-elect. These are matters of security, trade and – importantly – climate change. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference – expected to be hosted in Glasgow – is viewed as an important opportunity for Johnson to build relations with Biden and his cohort. For now, all eyes will be on the key appointments to the new White House team with whom members of the government will need to form ties.