As Joe Biden struggles to find someone to appoint as envoy to the UK, sending Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, as a temporary ambassador to London, it is believed that the delay is due to Downing Street’s objection to the US President’s first choice - Barack Obama.
The Biden administration had informally suggested the former US President as a candidate for the post, claim UK Foreign Office and Washington sources cited by the Sunday Express. Biden served as vice president during Obama's two terms in the White House between 2008 and 2016.
However, Boris Johnson is against Obama filling the post, claims the outlet.
“It’s absolutely true that the government has privately objected to an Obama appointment. It’s also true that this is why there is a delay,” a senior Whitehall source was cited as saying.
There has been tension between current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ex-President Barack Obama dating back to the 2016 EU referendum, or the Brexit referendum.
At the time, the then-POTUS came on a visit to Britain to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday and claimed Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for trade deals if Brexit became a reality. Obama had appealed to the British public to “stick together” with the rest of the European Union in an article for The Daily Telegraph.
The remarks triggered the ire of the Leave campaign, spearheaded by Boris Johnson. Then-Mayor of London hit back at the nigh-unprecedented intervention in a domestic issue in Britain by a serving US President, writing an article in The Sun about the decision of the Obama administration to ostensibly remove a bust of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.
“Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” wrote Johnson.
The claim, incidentally, was debunked by the Washington Post, which concluded that the bust had been returned to the British embassy in Washington before Obama took office. Nevertheless, the remark had opened Johnson up to accusations of "dog-whistle racism".
“Obama is just unacceptable. The back of the queue comment alone makes him unacceptable,” a senior source said regarding the possibility of the ex-POTUS being chosen for the envoy position.
Other suggested concerns emphasise that the US President would thus “create a rival court in Britain to the court of Boris and Carrie”.
“You can imagine he will have an open door to former Remainers, opponents of the Government. Michelle [Obama] will carry on touring schools. It will be a rival focus to the government especially with question marks over the relationship between Biden and Boris,” said sources.
Woody Johnson, who was appointed ambassador to the UK under Donald Trump, is yet to be replaced, with the US President expected to postpone an ultimate decision until next year.
Weighing in on the reports, however, a UK government spokesperson was cited as saying they were “simply untrue.”
A Downing Street source stated:
“Questions on US appointments are for the US. However, it is quite usual for new US governments to take some time to make ambassadorial appointments. There are a number of senior diplomatic postings yet to be confirmed, not just the UK.”