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Biden Win Is A Blow To Britain's Johnson, Encouraging Sign To Labour Party

NOEL KING, HOST:

Republicans and Democrats aren't the only ones trying to figure out what President Trump's loss in the election means. British politicians are doing the same thing. Biden's victory is a hit to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but it might be an encouraging sign for Britain's opposition Labour Party. Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Boris Johnson sold Brexit to British voters as a way to escape the bureaucracy of the European Union and get better free trade deals with major economies, especially the U.S., which sounded likely under Trump. Here's Vice President Mike Pence speaking with Johnson last year.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The United States is ready, willing and able to immediately negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.K.

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Fantastic.

LANGFITT: Trump backed a U.K. trade deal because he's a big supporter of Brexit. What a difference an election makes. Biden does not like Brexit, as he explained a couple of years ago at Chatham House, the London think tank.

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JOE BIDEN: With regard to Brexit, had I been a member of Parliament, had I been a British citizen, I would have voted against leaving.

LANGFITT: Biden opposed Brexit because, like many, he thinks it weakens Europe and the U.K. and makes Britain less valuable to America.

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BIDEN: The United States' ability to play a major role in the security of the West rests in part upon Great Britain's influence in Europe, so we lose to the extent you lose influence.

LANGFITT: Most here don't expect a U.K. trade deal will be a priority for Biden as he looks to mend fences in Europe damaged by President Trump. And Britain might have to wait until at least 2022 for any agreement. Andrew Adonis is a peer with the main opposition Labour Party in Britain's House of Lords.

ANDREW ADONIS: What I think is most significant about Biden's victory is that it undermines the political and intellectual case for Brexit. The only way that that appeared credible as a political project was by claiming that it was going to be substituted by trade deals and a closer trade relationship with the United States. And of course, that policy is now being blown out of the water.

LANGFITT: As in the United States, political parties in Britain are already trying to draw lessons from last week's election.

SARA HOBOLT: There's no doubt that the Labour Party will be very happy with this outcome.

LANGFITT: Sara Hobolt is a political scientist at the London School of Economics. She says Keir Starmer, who runs the Labour Party, is seen as a solid, competent moderate, a sharp contrast with Johnson, a political showman who's often seemed overwhelmed by the pandemic.

HOBOLT: I think what they will be hoping, perhaps, when looking at this election is that this victory of a sense of quiet competence of a Biden over the charismatic identity politics of Trump is one that they can emulate.

LANGFITT: But Johnson's Conservative Party may also be reassured by Trump's strong showing. Matthew Goodwin teaches politics at the University of Kent.

MATTHEW GOODWIN: The fact that Trump was not repudiated in the sense - you know, he lost the election but also got 70 million votes - I think probably there will be some within Britain who will view that as being an election result that doesn't necessarily require them to find a new formula.

LANGFITT: The Conservative Party here will also be watching closely to see who eventually takes Trump's place.

GOODWIN: Which is obviously going to be fascinating because you've got the Marco Rubios, you've got the Josh Hawleys positioning to be the kind of Trump 2.0 - to kind of take that territory and make it a little bit more acceptable versus others who will say, well, let's go back to good old-fashioned mainstream Republicanism.

LANGFITT: In the meantime, Biden's election is not all bad news for Boris Johnson. Beyond Brexit, Johnson is much closer to Biden on many issues than he ever was with Trump, including support for NATO, the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "NECROLOGY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.