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Uncertainty in U.K. over COVID-19, relationship with U.S.

London erupted in fireworks and celebration Saturday night after multiple media outlets announced President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. But after four years of a tumultuous relationship with the U.S., and COVID-19 cases on the rise in the U.K., many in the British capital were inclined to skepticism. NPR’s Frank Langfitt joins from London.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the lockdown in the U.K. and reaction there to the U.S. election results, I spoke with NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt who joined us from London.

    Frank, we'll get to the election in a second, but first, the other and only major story in the world is COVID. The number of cases across Europe have been increasing, just like they are in the United States. And we're seeing the U.K. now taking much more drastic measures.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    What basically happened is over the summer, people traveled a lot in Europe and it's clear that people brought it back from Spain, for instance. And also there's been kind of, it was much more relaxed in the United Kingdom than it was in the States. And so there hasn't been as much social distancing. We've got a resurgence as the weather's gotten much colder here this fall.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How does that translate into how people feel about this, their frustration level, whether they think that there's a clear policy, whether they think they're going to round the corner because all the epidemiologists say, hey, come Thanksgiving, come Christmas, come the winter, this is going to be worse before it gets better?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    I think that there is pandemic fatigue here, lockdown fatigue. And I think you're seeing people violating it right now. I have a neighbor who's told me that she's having people into the house, she's just not going to pay attention to it. She's, I think, late 60s, early 70s.

    So I think you're definitely seeing that people are tired of it. They're worried about not being able to celebrate Christmas. And that's kind of where we are right now. And certainly, if the government weren't doing this, it could be a very, very bad December.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So let's talk a little bit about the reaction in the United Kingdom now after the AP, the BBC even called the election in favor of Joe Biden.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    The day after the election I was out in London. That was right before we went into lockdown and I talked to young Londoners. And what I got from them was very interesting. They were hoping for a blowout by Joe Biden, and the fact that it wasn't was disappointing to them.

    I think what you're going to see in Europe and here in the United Kingdom is a feeling that it was not the big, big blue wave that many here would have hoped for and that there's less trust and confidence in the American political system. It used to be foreign policy in Europe, for America was very consistent on either side of the aisle. That's no longer true. And so the concern here would be, get to 2024 and a different, more savvy version of Trump takes over, and the policy then runs against European interests. So a lot of people in Europe talking about beginning to sort of think about going their own way.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Does that cause people to second-guess what Joe Biden can do if perhaps his rollback of what President Trump did is rolled back again in '24, if Trumpism exists in the longer arc?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    I think that that's a big, big concern. And I think there's a recognition here that Donald Trump was a symptom of much bigger changes and dissatisfaction in the American political system. We've seen the polarization.

    I think honestly, had Joe Biden gotten a 400-plus electoral vote win and had 55 seats in the Senate, I think people would be much more confident here in London and Paris, Berlin, and places like that. But it wasn't what they had hoped for. And so I think they are very cautious about the future. And I think that Donald Trump really did change the way many people in Europe view the American political system. And that's not just going to go away with Joe Biden's win.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What happens to Boris Johnson, who has been very chummy and an ally in some ways of President Trump now that Joe Biden might be the next president?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Well, it's not good news for Boris Johnson in the short term. As far as we can tell, Joe Biden is no fan of Boris Johnson. He was against Brexit and obviously Johnson championed it. And someone like Joe Biden, the classic trans-Atlanticist, sees Brexit as undermining Europe, which is accurate. That really is dividing Europe.

    But I think over time, what Johnson is hoping for is there are a lot of shared policy goals that you would have with the Biden administration that he didn't have with the Trump administration. Climate change, a perfect example here in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will be hosting the next big climate conference in Glasgow in November. That's a great opportunity for Boris Johnson to find common ground with the Biden administration and kind of get a lot closer, maybe repair some of the damage of the Trump years.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Frank Langfitt joining us from London from NPR. Thanks so much.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Happy to do it, Hari.

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