With just over a week to go until the US presidential election, British Conservatives are finally going public with their support for Joe Biden.
Boris Johnson’s former chancellor Sajid Javid has declared that “Britain is better off with Biden”, and many others in his party are “praying” for a Trump defeat.
Tory MPs told HuffPost UK that they were backing the Democrat because of climate change, foreign policy such as the Iran nuclear deal and “the return of dignity” to the White House.
With Johnson’s Downing Street scrambling to build links with the Biden team in recent weeks, several backbenchers said that the PM’s own standing among the public could also be helped if Trump was no longer on the scene.
Ever since former premier John Major’s government was accused in 1992 of digging dirt on Bill Clinton’s youth in the UK, the Conservative party has been reluctant to wade into presidential elections.
Johnson, who said of Trump in 2015 “I am genuinely worried that he could become president” swiftly changed his tune once the reality TV star and real estate developer looked like a serious contender for the Republican nomination a year later.
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Since Trump became president he has torn up convention by undermining Theresa May and openly supporting Johnson as her successor, and the two men have tried to form a strong bond over a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal.
Yet Trump’s divisive rhetoric and his quixotic approach to world affairs has led many Tory MPs to conclude that both the country and their party would be better off if he loses the 2020 election. One insider told HuffPost that “the vast majority” of Downing Street staff wanted a Biden victory.
Former foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan, who had to deal with Trump up close during his visit to London in 2019, said: “Trump has been a global embarrassment and the most unenlightened Western leader I’ve ever come across.
“I very much hope that Biden wins and a modicum of dignity can be returned to American politics. At the very least, we would get better manners and the basis of a government rather than a reality show. Trump has been rude, has degraded all Western politics and has brought shame to America.”
Sir Alan added that with Congress being the real decision makers on any post-Brexit trade talks, it was moot whether Trump could ever deliver on the speedy, comprehensive deal he had promised.
“A lot of people have deluded themselves into thinking an easy trade deal was always available with Trump. But it never was, because trade deals are extremely complicated.”
Sajid Javid’s long-time unease with Trump finally spilled over into a withering Daily Telegraph opinion article on Friday, in which he attacked the president on his opposition to free trade, his support for “oppressive strongman leaders” in China and elsewhere, and his lack of “moral authority”.
“A Biden administration would quickly realise that Boris isn’t the British Trump some claim him to be. When it comes to policy, Biden will find he has more in common with the Johnson government than Trump ever did. He may not single us out for unique treatment, but in reality neither did Trump,” Javid said.
Suggesting Biden would rebuild and unify America like Ronald Reagan, Javid said the Democrat was appealing to voters’ “best hopes”, not their “worst fears”. “Britain is better off with Biden,” he concluded.
Unlike many ministers in Theresa May’s government, Javid had never been afraid to stand up to Trump.
When the US president retweeted videos from the far-right group Britain First, the then communities secretary accused Trump of endorsing the views of “a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me”. “He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing,” he said at the time.
So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 29, 2017
Javid was also furious that he was not invited to the Queen’s State Banquet with Trump last year, despite being home secretary and more senior to those who were invited such as Michael Gove and Penny Mordaunt.
But after Trump’s increasingly inflammatory conduct over the Black Lives Matter protests this year and refusal to condemn white nationalists or conspiracy theorists (like QAnon), it seems that Javid’s view of the president has become that of a mainstream majority on the Conservative benches in the Commons.
Rob Halfon, a former minister and chairman of the Commons education selection committee, said: “The only way the conservative movement around the world can reshape itself is if Trump goes. He’s poisoned the well for a very long time.
“He’s cast a stain on conservatism and it will force the Republican party to reform and get their own version of Obama. Pre-Covid, I actually think Boris was more like Ronald Reagan, with a sunny outlook, than Trump.”
For some Conservatives, however, Biden’s stance on recent claims the UK would break international law on Brexit has proved too big a bar to endorsing him. “Biden annoyed a lot of us with his courting of the Irish vote during the controversy over the Internal Markets Bill,” one former minister said.
Another backbencher and ex-minister agreed that Nancy Pelosi and Biden had gone too far at the time. “Trump may have his fault but he is a good friend of the UK,” he said. “As we leave the EU, he would certainly be a better president to help us get a good and quick free trade deal with the US so I would prefer a second Trump presidency.”
But several other Tories disagreed. Former minister and newly-ennobled Tory peer Lord Vaizey said that while some right-wing Conservatives were with Trump on his strong stance on Israel, Nato funding and Iran, many would be happy with Biden.
“It’s always been the case that centrist Conservatives have as much in common with the Democrats as they would with Republicans. Most Conservatives from the left to the right would say they were fans of Reagan, and broadly be happy with both Bushes.
“When push comes to shove we tend to be Republican leaning. We were happy with both Obama and Clinton. Clinton’s presidency was only tainted by the fact that it was a bro-in with Blair as we were at our lowest ebb.
“There would be a lot of Conservatives who would feel extremely comfortable with a Biden presidency, because what he’s proposing is not radical in our view: universal health care, and maybe a few tax rises on the wealthiest.
“And you want to deal with someone who is going to be a more predictable partner in terms of the UK-US alliance. You want to see an America that’s stopped turning in on itself and hopeful have a president that can bring the country together.”
Vaizey said that the UK’s hosting of next year’s climate change talks could also prove the benefit of a Biden presidency. “There are some climate change sceptics in the Tory party, and some who have sympathy with Trump’s latest stance on China.
“But there’s no doubt at all it would be quite useful when we are hosting COP 26 to have an American president who actually does take climate change seriously and puts the might of the US behind it. Because obviously, it’s been very smart of the Chinese to try and seize that mantle.”
One Tory MP, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “Coming out of the closet as a Conservative for Biden is getting a lot easier, to be frank, given the state of the polls. But some of us just think we should be consistent and stay out of their elections, and they stay out of ours. Having said that, of course I want him to win. It’s a no-brainer to have someone more stable.”
Sir Simon Burns, a former Tory health minister who retired from parliament in 2017, revealed he had actually canvassed in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the Biden campaign in February, when the former vice president hit his lowest ebb, coming fourth.
“I came back from America thinking, he’s got an uphill battle if he can survive. And then a few weeks later South Carolina came along and he never looked back.”
“When I supported Clinton in 1992 and 1996, I was the rare exception in the Tory party and was seen as an idiosyncrasy. By 2004, with George W Bush I suspect over half the Tory party were simpatico for the Democrats and that was certainly the case in 2008.
“Now I think a reasonable number of Tory MPs in the lonely early hours of the morning are praying that this nightmare that America has had for the last four years is going to be removed by the American electorate. I would imagine Theresa May won’t be shedding too many tears either, given the way she was treated by him.”
One former senior government figure said: “The vast majority of Tory MPs would agree with Javid. Even the vast majority of people in Downing Street, apart from a few culture warriors who might vote Trump but not very many. I suspect Saj also feels very personally some of the Trump attack on race relations and some of his language he finds very offensive.
“We will get on fine with Biden. There are some people around Biden who view the UK as an irresponsible renegade [given Brexit], but I’m sure they and he can get over that.”
Freddie Sayers, executive editor of the right-of-centre website UnHerd, said he hoped that a Biden administration would not try to settle scores or try to restore an “establishment elite” that had driven many Americans to vote for Trump in the first place.
But he added: “Personally I think the fact that he is of good moral character is quite important. He’s old, but his heart is in the right place and people care about that.”
Younger Tory party activists really began to lean Democrat under Obama, he said. “I was in Iowa [for the primary] in 2008 and there was a bunch of [David] Cameron staffers who were going wild for Obama.”
However, some former Cameron aides like Steve Hilton have come out forcefully for Trump, and Sayers says for some Brexiteers Trump remains temptingly in line with their “buccaneering” vision of nation states.
“The Tories are so confused as to who they are at the moment. Biden/Trump is a proof of that confusion. Are they the nice multilateralists who are going to restore British values to the world, or are they populists who are wanting to reveal ‘the lie’ of the consensus of the party 30 years and show how it was broken? They just don’t know.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.