It has been a week saturated with emotion as thousands of people took to the streets to demand their civil rights following the tragic killing of George Floyd in America two weeks ago. The reports, videos and first-hand accounts streaming out of the US look akin to a dictatorial regime crack down. The self-professed leader of the free world’s answer to citizen protest has left the free world looking on in horror. In the UK, we have seen a responding ground swell of grassroots support calling for the UK Government to condemn the seemingly indiscriminate state violence and to stop supplying the US with riot gear. Once again, the ‘special relationship’ has backed the UK Prime Minister into a tight spot.
The fact is, in a post-Brexit world Britain will need several lucrative trade deals to fill the gap left by the European Union trading block. At the top of the list? Our friend across the pond. It has already been a fraught negotiation with clashes over the NHS, food standards and agricultural policy. A public condemnation of the regime from Number 10, particularly with a President known for his temper tantrums at the helm, could seriously impede progress. The economic impact of COVID-19 has made the deal all the more critical and Boris Johnson will be loath to risk it, particularly as he cynically knows that the majority of protestors are hardly his core supporters.
However, should Johnson resist the calls to condemn the violence he faces appearing silent on the big issues of the world stage at a point in our history where Britain hopes to sustain a global voice. At home, the PM risks appearing weak. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer, unrestricted by the responsibilities of Government has urged Trump to “respect human rights ” citing the moral obligation of the UK to speak out against such injustice.
Johnson’s situation has been made all the more complicated by another of the week’s headlines – Hong Kong. The Prime Minister, after pressure from his backbenches, has toughened his stance towards China. This week he pledged to admit 3 million Hong Kong citizens British citizenship if China pushes ahead with its controversial security law. China has responded to warn of substantial damage to the UK economy, casting doubt over another profitable post-Brexit trade deal.
Johnson is teetering on the edge of damaging two trade deals that will surely be central not only to post-Brexit Britain’s economy but also the country’s economic recovery to COVID-19. He may feel that we simply cannot afford the repercussions of standing up to Trump’s America when we don’t have the European Union behind us. But with momentum growing behind the protests, the pressure on Johnson is likely to increase.