Johnson will not mourn end of Trump presidency, says ex-cab sec Sedwill

Former cabinet secretary says those who claimed PM would have preferred Biden to lose US election were “mistaken”
Mark Sedwill seated next to Boris Johnson at a cabinet meeting Aaron Chown/PA

By Jim Dunton

19 Jan 2021

Former cabinet secretary Lord Mark Sedwill has said he believes that US president Donald Trump’s failure to win a second term in office was welcome news to prime minister Boris Johnson. 

Sedwill, who led the civil service and was national security adviser for the first 14 months of Johnson’s time in Downing Street, said the transfer of power to Joe Biden tomorrow would put US policies on a trajectory that was better aligned to the UK’s interests.

“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,” Sedwill wrote in an opinion piece for the Daily Mail.

“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.”

Sedwill said the Biden administration would reset priorities much more in line with those of his former boss, Barack Obama and re-engage with democracies and global institutions – such as the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation – that Trump “despised and disrupted”.

However the former cabinet secretary, who served as Home Office perm sec from 2013-2017 and was cabinet secretary from 2018 to 2020, said not everything from the Trump administration would change after Biden assumed the presidency.

“It would be wrong to regard the past four years as an alternative reality from which we will soon emerge blinking into the sunlight,” Sedwill wrote.

“Like all American presidents, Mr Biden will focus on domestic issues in his early months, principally on controlling the Covid pandemic while trying to restore harmony and dignity to American politics. And global events won’t let up. China dominates the foreign policy agenda in Washington DC as never before.”

In the piece, Sedwill suggested that the new US administration may not want to turn back the clock on European security. 

“The Biden team is deeply unhappy that the EU rushed through a new investment agreement with Beijing late last month,” he wrote. “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?”

Sedwill noted that despite repeated demands from Washington, the EU’s defence expenditure was only half Britain’s rate and a third of America’s, and that it was “fragmented across 27 countries, despite an ever-growing threat in our own neighbourhood from Russia and instability to Europe’s south and east”. 

He added: “We need our continental partners to invest more in effective security and defence.”

On China, Sedwill argued that a “consistent, coherent and comprehensive allied consensus in a new relationship” was required. 

He said that Beijing’s behaviour had to be contested when it disrupted global security, broke international trade rules, breached anti-slavery measures – such as in the use of forced Uighur labour – or violated the human rights of people in Hong Kong.

“But we must also cooperate with them on climate change and the other big environmental challenges,” he added. “And we must ensure our companies can compete fairly in their markets as we allow theirs to compete in ours. You could call it détente, but with Chinese characteristics.”

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