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

Prime Minister Boris Johnson met US President Joe Biden on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall.

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

Boris Johnson sought to play down differences with Joe Biden, claiming the new US President was a “breath of fresh air” and insisting there was “absolutely common ground” over 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.

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 the meeting, which lasted around an hour and twenty minutes, had been “very productive”.

He told reporters in Cornwall the revitalised Atlantic Charter agreed by the two men 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.

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.

The two leaders and their wives – Carrie Johnson and Jill Biden – admired the view over Carbis Bay before their meeting.

The issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol – the post-Brexit trading arrangements which have led to a dispute between the UK and EU – had been raised by the US side in advance of the discussions.

The scale of Mr Biden’s unease about the UK’s approach to the Protocol was revealed in a leaked memo which showed the US took the extraordinary step of ordering its 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”.

G7 Summit
First Lady Jill Biden, US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson walk outside Carbis Bay Hotel (Toby Melville/PA)

A No 10 readout following the meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Biden said: “The leaders agreed that both the EU and the UK had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.”

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 Brexit minister 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.

“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.

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 commits the UK and US to applying 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.

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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