Against all odds, Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a trade agreement with the EU after nine months of fraught negotiations. The deal is without a doubt a huge triumph for the Prime Minister, who two years ago won a thumping majority at the general election with the promise “to get Brexit done”. Many are wondering whether he will now be able to pull a similar move with the US – as the former Mayor of London had put an agreement with Washington at the heart of his plans to revive Britain after Brexit.
The election of Democratic President Joe Biden has undoubtedly complicated things for him.
As he outlined his vision for his first few days in the White House in January, the new President confirmed he would not be prioritising a deal with the UK.
Instead, Mr Biden said he will adopt a similar “America First” policy as US President Donald Trump, fighting “like hell” to invest in US firms and employees.
Alan Winters, director of the Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, told Express.co.uk Britain might indeed have to brace itself for disappointment.
He said: “The chances of a trade deal with the US in the near future are really low.
“Americans want things out of the deal that are pretty unpalatable in the UK, such as chlorinated chicken and access to a pharmaceutical market at high prices.
“Basically all things that the UK Government has already said it cannot give.”
Even if a deal is ultimately struck down the line, things might not go exactly as Mr Johnson might hope, though.
Desmond Cohen, author and former Dean at the School of Social Sciences at Sussex University, has warned against an agreement with the US, as he argued that historical evidence shows that where there are one-sided relationships, with one partner much stronger than the other, the outcome is often exploitative and unbalanced.
He wrote: “Throughout history, the US has proved to be a ruthless negotiator where its economic interests are involved.
“There are lessons of history which seem only too relevant to current economic policy in the UK.”
Analysing US and UK relations at a time of real crisis – the period of World War 2 and its immediate aftermath – Mr Cohen claimed there are three related issues that yield important lessons relating to any probable set of trade negotiations subsequent to Brexit.
The Lend-Lease policy was a programme under which the US supplied the UK and other Allied nations with food, oil, and materiel between 1941 and August 1945.
This included warships and warplanes, along with other weaponry.
It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, and ended in September 1945.
In general the aid was free but, according to Mr Cohen, the US was actually only prepared to provide support under rigorous conditions.
He explained: “The situation was such that John Maynard Keynes in March 1941 finally exploded, accusing US Secretary to the Treasury Henry Morgenthau of ‘stripping us of our liquid assets to the greatest extent possible before the Lend Lease Bill comes into operation…He was aiming to reduce Britain’s gold reserves to nil, treating us worse than we have ever ourselves thought it proper to treat the humblest and least responsible Balkan country’.”
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The aim, the author noted, was actually to supplant sterling as a global currency by the US dollar and to ensure that American exports had “unfettered access to the markets of the British Empire from which they had largely been excluded following the introduction of Imperial Preference in 1932”.
He added: “The US Government was prepared to support Britain in the war against the Germans, but its ultimate aim was to supplant the UK in the world economy.”
The second issue mentioned by Mr Cohen that arose during World War 2 was after the Tizard Mission to the US.
In September 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, the scientist Henry Tizard embarked on a mission to the US with the support of Winston Churchill.
Mr Tizard, who was chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee, had propelled the development of radar.
The objective of the mission was to cooperate in science and technology with the US, which up until that point had been neutral and unwilling to become involved in the war.
The US had greater resources for development and production, which Britain desperately wanted to use.
The information provided by the British delegation contained some of the greatest scientific advances of the time.
The shared technology included the radar – in particular the greatly improved cavity magnetron, which the American historian James Phinney Baxter III later called “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores”, the design for the proximity VT fuse, details of Frank Whittle’s jet engine and the Frisch-Peierls memorandum describing the feasibility of an atomic bomb.
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But according to Mr Cohen, while the UK was hoping for joint development of these technical innovations, in reality most of the benefits accrued to the US.
He wrote: “Although Britain sought access to some US innovations, notably the Norden bombsight, the US Government refused to make it available.”
The third issue mentioned by Mr Cohen arose after the war.
It is widely believed that the US and the UK collaborated closely in the development of nuclear fission between the US and the UK post-1940.
He wrote: “This is certainly the impression left by Margaret Gowing, the official historian of nuclear development in the UK.
“However, interpreting the depth of collaboration at both the governmental and scientific levels in developing the atomic bomb is complex.”
He concluded in his piece for Open Democracy: “Close analysis leads to the conclusion that the US intended to retain a monopoly of knowledge on nuclear fission.
“The US had no intention of developing a joint wartime programme, but was perfectly happy to collaborate at the scientific level and to draw down scientific knowledge.
“This is the case despite the particular contribution of British scientists to the Manhattan Project.”