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USA Presidential Election

Volume 807: debated on Monday 9 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the 2020 presidential election in the United States of America.

My Lords, the UK Government congratulate President-elect Biden on winning the presidential election with a projected record total turnout of more than 150 million American voters. The United States is our most important ally and we look forward to working with the new Administration on all our shared interests, from climate change to trade and security.

My Lords, from these Benches we also congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and the American people for the resilience of their democracy. Does the Minister note the new President’s commitment to global engagement and the rules-based order, which will be vital as we seek to address Covid, climate change, and regional and global threats? Does she agree that the first thing that the UK Government should do now is to abandon their plans to break international law and that they have the opportunity to do just that this afternoon?

My Lords, as I said, we look forward to working with the new Administration on a wide range of issues. We will be engaging with the new Administration on climate change and, as G7 chair in 2020-21, we look forward to working with the US to secure a strong international rules-based system.

My Lords, it is obvious that a combination of Brexit and the Prime Minister’s fawning over Donald Trump has left us with very diminished influence over United States politics. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will engage with the Biden Administration—always allowing that they return the calls—over a range of subjects that have been left in disarray by Donald Trump? These include not only climate change but the trade talks, the Iran nuclear deal, the new strategic arms talks, the World Health Organization, NATO and, generally, respect for international rules and order?

My Lords, regardless of who is in the White House, or indeed No. 10, the friendship between the UK and the US has always been a force for good in the world. As I said, with the UK’s presidency of the G7 and COP 26 next year, there is a real opportunity for the UK and the US to lead the way in building a stronger international consensus. There is a long list of topics, many of which the noble Lord highlighted, on which we will work side by side with the new Administration.

My Lords, will the Minister recognise that, when Joe Biden is formally elected as the new President of the United States, he will be the most fervent Irish nationalist President for many years? Will she make the Belfast agreement very clear to him, perhaps by making our ambassador in Washington give him a copy of it, asking him to read it, particularly the section on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland to any change in the constitution?

My Lords, as I said, we look forward to engaging with the new US Administration and President-elect Biden on a number of issues.

My Lords, President Trump started a process by which the United States would leave the New START and open skies treaties, briefly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Reid. Is my noble friend the Minister confident that the UK Government can persuade President Biden to reverse President Trump’s decision on this matter and thereby maintain the strategic security that these treaties bring to us all?

My Lords, we recognise the contribution that New START has made to international security and strategic stability, and we remain committed to the open skies agreement. We believe that it benefits transatlantic security by building understanding and confidence through military transparency. We have been in close touch with the current US Administration while they have reviewed their involvement in the treaty, and we will continue those discussions with the new Administration.

My Lords, if a trade agreement with the United States is still a priority of our Government, do they believe that they can achieve such an agreement so long as they insist on Part 5 of the internal markets Bill?

My Lords, a free trade agreement remains a priority of the Government. From the outset of these negotiations, we have engaged with US partners on a bipartisan basis and we are ready to continue strengthening economic partnership between our two countries. We look forward to engaging the President-elect and his team on this.

My Lords, there are obviously a number of important new areas for co-operation if, as assumed, Mr Biden becomes President. They include, for example, as has been mentioned, a positive restarting of arms control discussions, although there are also some negatives, such as the situation in Northern Ireland, where the Americans have never really grasped and understood the subtleties and difficulties of the situation. However, can we take great care to avoid hugging American leadership aspirations and strategic impulses too closely and never forget that, in the new international conditions now prevailing, we have partners in the Indo-Pacific region and Asia, who will be just as important to our future safety, security and prosperity?

My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that we are indeed committed to developing and deepening our relationship with our friends in the growing powers of Asia. We have submitted our application to become a dialogue partner in ASEAN. As we recover from the pandemic, it is more important than ever to work with ASEAN on a sustainable economic recovery.

My Lords, the election of President Biden creates a really historic opportunity to repair the damage done to international co-operation during the Trump years. The way for Britain to have influence is to come forward with practical ideas to tackle issues that concern both countries. Given that President Biden is known to be a strong supporter of NATO, can the noble Baroness reassure us that the Government have specific plans ready to put to his transition team on how to re-energise NATO and show that it is not brain dead?

My Lords, we will indeed be discussing NATO with the incoming Administration. NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and collective defence. The enduring commitment of the US to Euro-Atlantic security and the strength of our transatlantic bond have provided peace and prosperity for over 70 years.

My Lords, I cannot have been the only person who was shocked to hear the Foreign Secretary yesterday unable to answer the question on whether all votes should be counted in a democratic election. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness said that she was looking forward to engaging with the new team, and I add my congratulations to President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris. Can she tell us whether the Foreign Secretary has made, and will make, an attempt to speak to President-elect Biden’s transition team as soon as possible?

My Lords, as is standard practice, you can expect the PM to speak to the successful candidate in due course. The embassy has been in touch with the campaign and we will expect a call in due course, as is normal practice.

My Lords, we have seen in the United States a change in campaigning technique, with social media becoming very important. President Trump has 88.9 million followers on Twitter. I ask that we in the UK become aware of how necessary it will be to keep an eye on this new campaigning and how important it will be to keep our present broadcasting system going strongly, because it was so effective. I know that it kept us up for many hours, but can we thank the broadcasters—the BBC especially—for all the work they have done and make sure that nothing prevents that sort of coverage in the future?

My Lords, we have seen lots of social media activity during this election, as we do in every election, and indeed we see more in every election that comes along. We have also seen actions taken by social media companies. I agree with the noble Lord that it is incredibly important to make sure that we track this closely and do everything we can to make sure that a free and fair media report in every election. I add my thanks to those of the noble Lord. Like, I am sure, many noble Lords, I was glued to the election coverage at the weekend, and I thank the broadcasters for that coverage.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has mentioned security co-operation several times in this interlude. Does she agree that security co-operation with the United Nations Security Council is pre-eminent in terms of UK-US relations? Can she take this opportunity to deny allegations in the media that the United Kingdom vetoed a ceasefire put forward by the Minsk Group on the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh last week?

My Lords, we continue to work with the US and all our partners in the Security Council, particularly on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that the strong support given by President-elect Biden as a Senator and consistently ever since against genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a very good basis for action by the UK, alongside the United States, against genocide and hatred across the world?

My Lords, of course I praise President-elect Joe Biden for standing up for what is right. The UK Government stand firmly against genocide. I mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh in my previous answer; of course, we face challenges in Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh and Belarus. We will continue to work with the US and the new Administration on the challenges that we face here in Europe and across the world.