Boris’s mission to rebuild the Special Relationship: Johnson arrives at the White House for first visit as PM hoping to find common ground with Joe Biden on climate change, Afghanistan and trade
- Boris Johnson has arrived at the White House for talks with Joe Biden, in his first visit since becoming PM
- Premier is trying to forge new relationship with Joe Biden after friction over Afghanistan and other issues
- Mr Johnson has been boosted by US easing restrictions on travel for Britons and funding for climate change
- The PM will also meet Vice President Kamala Harris before his Oval Office chat with the commander in chief
Boris Johnson arrived at the White House for his first visit as PM today on a mission to forge a new ‘special relationship’ with Joe Biden.
The premier appeared at the famous building in Washington DC, where he will hold talks with Vice President Kamala Harris before meeting the commander in chief.
Downing Street had been keen to get the pair together at the imposing backdrop, where so many alliances between British and American leaders have been burnished. Mr Johnson said earlier that it is the ‘job of any Prime Minister of the UK to have a good relationship with the President of the United States’.
And aides will have been pleased with the mood music leading up to the encounter – only the second face-to-face since they took office, thanks to Covid.
Mr Johnson has hailed Mr Biden’s announcement at the UN general assembly today that the US climate change finance will be doubled to $11.4billion per year, or £8.3billion. The move give the PM a springboard for the COP26 summit this Autumn, where he hopes world leaders will commit funds totalling $100billion – £73billion – per year.
No10 was also delighted that the American administration has finally eased the draconian travel restrictions on Britons crossing the Atlantic.
That announcement yesterday, taking effect from November, came as a surprise to many government figures, who had seemed unsure that they would achieve the breakthrough during the visit.
However, Mr Johnson has had to navigate some tricky moments, including having to defend the US decision to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban – something that caused fury in the UK and friction between the two governments.
The PM said Washington was entitled to believe ‘enough is enough’ after its forces spent 20 years propping up the country in the face of an Islamist insurgency. But he added: ‘Could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could.’
Mr Johnson would dearly love a strong indication from Mr Biden on a trade deal, but has seemed relentlessly – and uncharacteristically – downbeat about the prospects all week. Grilled on the issue, he has stressed that the president ‘has a lot of fish to fry’ and refused to commit to having a pact in place by the next election.
Mr Biden is a strong supporter of Ireland and has made clear his concern that Brexit wrangling over Ulster’s trade rules could undermine the peace process.
Mr Johnson also tried to nullify another bone of contention today by heaping praise on Mr Biden in an NBC interview, and taking a subtle jab at former President Donald Trump.
‘What I will say about Joe Biden, dealing with the new American president, yes it is a breath of fresh air in the sense that there are some things on which we can really, really work together,’ Mr Johnson said during his visit to New York.
He singled out Mr Biden’s stance on climate change, commending the president for doing a ‘great’ job.
‘He’s great on that,’ Johnson said. ‘He wants to cut CO2, he wants to net zero by 2050, and he shares with me a basic view that you can do this without penalizing the economy.’
Mr Biden was so enraged by the closeness between the men that he once famously described Mr Johnson as a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of Mr Trump.
Boris Johnson met Vice President Kamala Harris in the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House campus tonight ahead of his talks with Joe Biden
The PM and Vice President waved from the balcony before starting their discussions this evening
Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrive at the White House tonight, where he held talks with Vice President Kamala Harris before meeting the commander in chief
Eight months into his presidency, Biden has been out of sync with allies on the chaotic ending to the US war in Afghanistan
Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss chose to travel by train from New York to Washington DC. Both the PM and Mr Biden are known as train geeks
PM heaps praise on Joe Biden.. and has a dig at Donald Trump
Boris Johnson heaped praise on Joe Biden today ahead of their White House meeting.
While doing so he also took a subtle jab at former President Donald Trump, who was widely known for his sometimes erratic foreign policy decisions that would frustrate and confuse allies.
‘What I will say about Joe Biden, dealing with the new American president, yes it is a breath of fresh air in the sense that there are some things on which we can really, really work together,’ Johnson told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in New York City.
He singled out Biden’s stance on climate change, commending the president for doing a ‘great’ job.
‘He’s great on that,’ Johnson said unequivocally. ‘He wants to cut CO2, he wants to net zero by 2050, and he shares with me a basic view that you can do this without penalizing the economy.’
Hours later Biden made good on that reputation by vowing to double the US climate change fund to $11 billion per year at his Tuesday address to the United Nations General Assembly.
As so often with prime ministerial trips abroad, Mr Johnson has ended up having to field a crisis at home, with soaring gas prices sending energy firms bust and fears the knock-on effect on CO2 supplies could cause food shortages.
The premier and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss chose to travel by train from New York to Washington DC. Both Mr Johnson and Mr Biden are known to be train geeks.
Earlier, Mr Johnson said he has ‘plenty of reason to be optimistic’ about getting the free trade agreement (FTA) touted by Leave supporters as a major prize of departing the European Union but noted Americans ‘do negotiate very hard’.
His admission came after suggesting trade negotiations are not a priority for the US president, who he accepted has ‘a lot of fish to fry’.
Mr Johnson spoke to broadcasters on the terrace of a skyscraper in New York, where he has been attending a UN summit, before getting the train to Washington DC for his first visit to the White House since Mr Biden succeeded Donald Trump.
The Vote Leave figurehead downplayed the prospects of getting a trade deal by the next election, raising the possibility that he could leave Downing Street without achieving a key ambition for the post-Brexit era.
Asked if he would get the deal by 2024, the Prime Minister told Sky News: ‘We will keep going with free trade deals around the world including in the United States.
‘I have plenty of reason to be optimistic about that. But the Americans do negotiate very hard.’
Mr Johnson heads to the White House having conceded Britain and the US could have possibly taken a different course over the withdrawal of troops of Afghanistan, with the president having rejected his calls to extend the deadline.
‘America has been there for 20 years and it’s a respectable argument to say that enough is enough. Look, I mean, could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could,’ the Prime Minister told American broadcaster NBC.
Mr Johnson is expected to discuss the stalled trade talks with Mr Biden, as well as what further efforts they can take to address the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
The PM had pleaded with the president to push back his deadline for drawing down all US troops after the Taliban marched back to power.
But Mr Biden rejected the request, meaning potentially thousands of vulnerable Afghans who worked for the UK and their families were left behind.
Travelling on an Amtrak train to DC, Mr Johnson had been buoyed by the announcement the US will drop the blanket ban on travellers arriving from the UK due to the coronavirus crisis.
Just one day before the end of the ban was announced, Mr Johnson was downplaying to reporters any expectations that he could ‘crack’ the issue this week.
Aboard the RAF Voyager to New York, Mr Johnson also seemed negative about the prospect of getting a trade deal in place any time soon.
‘On the FTA, the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry,’ Mr Johnson told reporters.
In the run-up to the EU referendum in 2016, then-president Barack Obama warned Britons they would be at the ‘back of the queue’ for any trade deal if they voted for Brexit.
The EU departure also presents a quandary to the Prime Minister’s relationship with Mr Biden, who is vocally proud of his Irish heritage and has warned there will be no trade deal if peace in Northern Ireland is jeopardised by the EU departure.
A major diplomatic row has also broken out over a new military pact between the UK, US and Australia because it scuppered a multibillion-dollar contract for France to provide submarines to Australia.
France took the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra, but declined to do the same from London, accusing the UK of being America’s lapdog.
After meeting Mr Biden and Ms Harris in the White House, Mr Johnson will have dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Washington.
In an interview with NBC he admitted the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last month, which allowed a swift extremist takeover could ‘maybe’ have been handled better.
But he suggested it was time for the Afghan people to run their own country instead of relying on the West.
The opening months of his presidency have included a series of difficult moments with friendly nations that were expecting greater cooperation from Biden following four years of Trump’s ‘America first’ approach to foreign policy.
Eight months into his presidency, Biden has been out of sync with allies on the chaotic ending to the US war in Afghanistan.
He has faced differences over how to go about sharing coronavirus vaccines with the developing world and over pandemic travel restrictions. And there are questions about the best way to respond to military and economic moves by China.
Mr Biden also finds himself in the midst of a fresh diplomatic spat with France, the United States’ oldest ally, after announcing plans – along with Britain – to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
The move is expected to give Australia improved capabilities to patrol the Pacific amid growing concern about the Chinese military’s increasingly aggressive tactics, but it upended a French defense contract worth at least $66 billion to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
Mr Johnson (left) was put on the back foot in his relations with Mr Biden after building a notable warm alliance with former president Donald Trump (pictured together in New York in 2019)
Mr Johnson tried to paper over tensions on Afghanistan by saying Washington was entitled to believe ‘enough is enough’ after its forces spent 20 years propping up the country in the face of an Islamist insurgency.
President Biden’s administration has faced widespread criticism for its rapid pull-out from Afghanistan, which left the country in the hands of one of a brutal theocratic regime (Kandahar pictured today)
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