As Boris Johnson meets Joe Biden, does the UK still have a special relationship with the US?

As Boris Johnson gets a White House welcome from Joe Biden, what’s the status of the special relationship now, in the wake of Afghanistan and Brexit?

On the face of it, the news that the US is finally set to lift its travel ban for vaccinated UK and EU travellers seemed like a much-needed shot in the arm (excuse the pun) for transatlantic relations.

President Biden’s bullishness during the Afghanistan crisis and his firm position on Northern Ireland had strained the so-called special relationship to breaking point.

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So the fact that this travel breakthrough coincided with Boris Johnson’s first US trip as PM was surely a boon for Downing Street.

Well, they might have been able to chalk it up as a win, if they’d not been caught completely by surprise.

On his way to New York on Sunday night, Johnson was asked by the assembled press pack if the travel ban was likely to be lifted. “I don’t think we’re necessarily going to crack it this week,” was his downbeat response.

Of course, the important thing is that the ban is being lifted, but the lack of comms between the governments does highlight the power imbalance in the US-UK dynamic, one that is seen most starkly in the stalled talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Donald Trump (remember him?) and Johnson were more closely aligned, and the former occupant of the Oval Office had promised to get a “massive” trade deal done, in his usual bombastic, light-on-detail manner.

That was before his time in office ended in deranged press conferences, legal threats and an armed insurgency.

When Johnson meets Biden later today (21 September), he will attempt to put a free trade agreement back on the table. But if he does manage to pull off any kind of provisional pact it would be a real surprise at this stage.

If anything, the UK was downplaying expectations as the trip got started, pointedly describing American negotiators as “ruthless”.

Despite Johnson’s breezy claim that relations with the US are “about as good as they have been at any time in decades”, that’s not a picture that’s backed up by recent events.

And the new AUKUS defence partnership between the two nations and Australia is unlikely to do much to change that.

George W. Bush (L) and Tony Blair back in 2001 (Photo: Getty)

Gone are the days of Bush and Blair’s often sickly-sweet bromance, where they’d stand together in matching hands-on-hips poses for the cameras at Camp David and reveal their preference for the same toothpaste.

By contrast, the Biden-Johnson era got off to a very rocky start, and there are few signs that an increasingly isolationist White House, focused on its domestic challenges, is in any rush to go out of its way to make Johnson happy.

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