Joe Biden and Boris Johnson.
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  • Joe Biden's US election victory is causing concern for some supporters of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  • Johnson is not viewed favourably by Biden who once labeled him a "kind of a physical and emotional clone" of Donald Trump.
  • Johnson's past jibes against former US president Barack Obama are still remembered by the new President-elect, sources on his campaign told Business Insider.
  • "Joe has a long memory," about such things, one Biden campaign source said.
  • Johnson's warm relationship with Trump and his role as an architect of Brexit could also sour relations between the two countries.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

As US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to enter the White House in January, concerns have been growing in the UK about what his election will mean for relations between the US and the man American President Donald Trump once labeled "Britain Trump."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Biden are not natural bedfellows. Figures on Biden's campaign have told Business Insider that the president-elect has genuine hostility towards the prime minister, who he believes is a right-wing populist cut from the same cloth as the outgoing president.

This disdain for Johnson was apparent in a remark made by Biden last December that went largely unnoticed in the UK press, in which he called Johnson "kind of a physical and emotional clone" of Donald Trump.

The same sentiment was echoed by prominent Conservative party journalist James Forsyth, who on Friday wrote in the Times of London that those around Biden see Johnson as a "mini-Trump."

This apparent disdain has several origins. One key moment seems to have been Johnson's comments in 2016 towards Barack Obama, when he claimed that the former president's "part-Kenyan" heritage meant he had an "ancestral dislike of the British empire."

A source in Biden's campaign team told Business Insider that "Joe has a long memory," about such things.

"Barack Obama and Joe Biden are family. It's not a political friendship," they added.

Those around Johnson are optimistic that a good relationship can be built between the two leaders.

However, some UK diplomats and politicians believe that Downing Street may have underestimated the extent to which Biden might feel real personal animosity towards Boris Johnson.

This animosity stems from Johnson's warm relationship with Trump.

"The events of 2016 created a Boris/Trump relationship which will undoubtedly have stuck in the throats of some in the Democratic party in the United States and they've used their political closeness since," Nigel Sheinwald, the former US ambassador in Washington, told Business Insider.

"That will have a short-term effect [in general] and a short-term effect on the UK media who tend to see these things in highly vivid and colourful ways."

This point was echoed by Peter Westmacott, another former UK ambassador to Washington, who told an Institute for Government event last week that "the last couple of prime ministers here in the United Kingdom have made a point of getting close to the Trump administration and that has not gone without notice in the Biden team. So there will be a bit of work to be done." 

Biden's team is said to have been keeping a close eye on Johnson's UK government, with Dominic Cummings, the UK prime minister's controversial chief adviser often likened by some on Biden's team to Stephen Miller, the senior adviser to Trump who played a big part in the president's 2017 travel ban and policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

Then there is the issue of Brexit, which Biden remains ideologically opposed to.

Biden has already angered some in Downing Street by warning Boris Johnson away from a threat to break International law and potentially undermine the Good Friday Agreement, a move widely seen as a negotiating gambit to secure favourable Brexit terms from the EU.

Biden, who has Irish roots, has called the Good Friday Agreement one of the US's most significant foreign policy achievements and takes an intense interest in the Irish peace process. Johnson's perceived threats to undermine the process will not have been received well. 

However, a former White House official who is close to the Biden campaign said that while the president-elect does not have a strong personal relationship with Prime Minister Johnson, his team is wary of creating a negative first impression in the UK and wants to avoid looking confrontational.

"My guess is they'll reach out very early and there's been specific talk about the UK being a first call. People are aware of history and aware of tradition and don't want to make waves unless it's absolutely necessary," they told Business Insider.

The two men have never met, Downing Street confirmed this week. However, there is broader room for the two men to build a strong working relationship.

The president-elect has pledged to rejoin the Paris accord, a landmark climate change agreement from which Trump pulled the US, to end trade wars with other powers, and to bring an end to spats and attacks on American allies.

"In the long run, unless I've got Biden wrong, I see him as a pragmatist, someone with a conventional view of American interest and power," said Nigel Sheinwald, the former UK ambassador to the US, in an interview with Business Insider.

A president who acts with a traditional understanding and approach to US alliances and power structures will undoubtedly be welcome in Downing Street.

"I would very much hope that, should there be a Biden presidency, we would see a recommitment to climate change, to efforts in the Middle East to seek a way forward with Iran rather than just confrontation," said Alistair Burt, a former UK Foreign Office minister.

The truth, however, is that a Biden presidency will present a fast-moving mix of both problems and opportunities for Johnson's Downing Street.

"We often get into absolute binary discussions — somebody's good for us, somebody's bad for us," said Burt, who worked closely alongside Johnson.

"It isn't like that. A Biden presidency will have mixed issues for the United Kingdom. There will be things that many of us in the United Kingdom would like to see, and there will be other areas which may be tougher for the United Kingdom."

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