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Boris Johnson hails Biden administration as ‘breath of fresh air’ after first meeting

·7-min read
Boris Johnson hails Biden administration as ‘breath of fresh air’ after first meeting
G7 Summit (PA Wire)
G7 Summit (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson played down differences with Joe Biden, claiming the new US President was a “breath of fresh air” and insisting there was “absolutely common ground” over the potentially thorny issue of Northern Ireland.

The US President’s concerns over the way the UK Government is treating the Protocol with the European Union which governs post-Brexit arrangements on the island of Ireland threatened to overshadow the first meeting between the two leaders.

Following the talks, Mr Johnson said he was “optimistic” the peace process would be kept going.

Asked if Mr Biden made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland clear, Boris Johnson said: “No, he didn’t.

“What I can say is that America – the United States, Washington – the UK plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do and that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going.

“That’s absolutely common ground and I’m optimistic that we can do that.”

Mr Biden’s first overseas visit has provided the US President with the opportunity to repair some of the international relations damaged by predecessor Donald Trump.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s wonderful to listen to the Biden administration and Joe Biden because there’s so much that they want to do together with us – on security, on Nato, to climate change.

“It’s fantastic, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Mr Biden said he had a “very productive meeting” with Boris Johnson.

He told reporters in Cornwall the revitalised Atlantic Charter would address the “key challenges of this century – cyber security, emerging technologies, global health and climate change”.

Mr Biden said: “We affirmed the special relationship – that is not said lightly – the special relationship between our people and renewed our commitment to defending the enduring democratic values that both our nations share.”

Mr Johnson dislikes the term “special relationship” as he reportedly believes it makes the UK sound needy.

US President Joe Biden said Boris Johnson had led a “strong campaign to get people vaccinated across the UK”.

Speaking outside the Tregenna Castle hotel in St Ives, he said the US would “help lead the world out of this pandemic” alongside other G7 countries.

Earlier, Mr Biden turned on the charm saying he and Mr Johnson both “married way above our stations”.

The US President and his wife Jill Biden met Mr and Mrs Johnson in Carbis Bay, in Cornwall, on Thursday ahead of the G7 summit.

Mr Biden said: “I told the Prime Minister we have something in common. We both married way above our stations.”

Mr Johnson responded: “I’m not going to dissent on that one. I’m not going to disagree with you there or indeed on anything else, I think highly likely.”

Boris and Carrie Symonds married at a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral on May 29 before hosting a reception at Downing Street.

Newlyweds Mr and Mrs Johnson walked hand in hand for their first major engagement as a married couple on Thursday, almost two weeks on from their low-key wedding ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

US President Joe Biden talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (PA Wire)
US President Joe Biden talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (PA Wire)

Their young son Wilfred also appeared in some photographs.

Mrs Johnson opted for a red mid-length dress, which appeared to be a £325 gown by London-based designer L.K.Bennett, for the walk, while Mrs Biden wore a black and white dress with a black blazer.

The First Lady’s blazer, which carried the word “love” on the back in studs, appeared to be by French brand Zadig and Voltaire.

After having tea with Mrs Johnson on Thursday afternoon, Mrs Biden told reporters: “It’s really nice to be here in Cornwall. It’s my first time. Obviously it’s beautiful for those of you who have been here before.”

She said that she and her husband were looking forward to meeting the Queen as part of their visit, and that the couple hoped to focus on education in their discussions with the royals.

The Bidens and the Johnsons (REUTERS)
The Bidens and the Johnsons (REUTERS)

“We’ve looked forward to this for weeks and now it’s finally here. It’s a beautiful beginning,” she added.

Mr Biden also praised the attractive Cornish landscape saying: “It’s gorgeous. I don’t want to go home.”

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Biden said he was looking forward to “affirming the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”

The scale of Mr Biden’s unease about the UK’s approach to the Protocol was revealed in a leaked memo which showed the president took the extraordinary step of ordering the United States’ most senior diplomat in London, Yael Lempert, to deliver a demarche – a formal protest – in a meeting with Brexit minister Lord Frost on June 3.

The Times newspaper reported that Government minutes of the meeting said: “Lempert implied that the UK had been inflaming the rhetoric, by asking if he would keep it ‘cool’.”

The US charge d’affaires indicated that if Mr Johnson accepted demands to follow EU rules on agricultural standards, Mr Biden would ensure it would not “negatively affect the chances of reaching a US/UK free trade deal”.

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Downing Street did not deny the encounter took place. A No 10 spokesman said: “I don’t think you would expect me to get into discussions with other countries.”

The spokesman added that the Government would continue to seek to work “consensually” with the EU to resolve the impasse.

Talks between Brexit minister Lord Frost and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic on Wednesday failed to make a breakthrough on the Protocol.

The EU has threatened to launch a trade war against Britain if it fails to implement checks on goods entering Northern Ireland under the terms of the Brexit “divorce” settlement which Mr Johnson signed.

The prospect of a “sausage war” trade dispute came after Lord Frost refused to rule out the possibility that the UK could unilaterally delay imposing checks on British-made chilled meats which are due to come into force at the end of the month.

At a press conference in Brussels on Thursday ahead of the G7 summit, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen again insisted the Protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.

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“We have shown flexibility, we will show flexibility, but the Protocol and the (Brexit) Withdrawal Agreement have to be implemented completely,” she said.

The Protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market for goods in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.

The dispute has inflamed tensions for unionists in Northern Ireland while nationalists oppose a hard border on the island.

Mr Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president has a “rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland”.

He added: “That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States.”

The meeting of the two leaders comes on the eve of the G7 summit which will bring together the world’s wealthiest democracies at a time when the West faces difficult judgments in responding to the rise of China as an economic and political force and the destabilising actions of Russia.

As part of that process, the new Atlantic Charter will commit the UK and US to apply their combined strength to the enormous challenges facing the planet today, including global defence and security, “building back better” from coronavirus, and stopping climate change.

The original Atlantic Charter was a joint statement made by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941, setting out the UK and US goals for the post-Second World War world.

Mr Johnson said co-operation between the UK and US – “the closest of partners and the greatest of allies” – will be crucial “for the future of the world’s stability and prosperity”.

The two leaders have also agreed a new joint taskforce will examine how to resume travel between the US and UK, which ground to a halt as the pandemic hit.

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