Boris Johnson scolded by key Biden ally over historical Obama criticism

US Senator Chris Coons says comments about former president's ‘part-Kenyan ancestry’ were ‘not well received’

Britain's Boris Johnson attends the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (Peter Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the US as the UK's most important ally on Sunday as he welcomed in the new President-elect Joe Biden.

Mr Johnson said the world now had a “real prospect” of tackling climate change.

But his praise for the incoming administration was overshadowed by Mr Biden’s key ally, US Senator Chris Coons – who has been closely tipped to become Senator of State – after he raised the issue of the Prime Minister “reconsidering” comments he had previously made during the Brexit referendum campaign.

In 2016, when gaffe-prone Mr Johnson was leading the UK's Leave campaign, he suggested that former US President Barrack Obama's "part-Kenyan heritage" meant he had an "ancestral dislike of the British empire" that had led him to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House's Oval Office.

His comments came after Mr Obama urged the UK to “stick together” with the EU.

Old scores to settle?

On Sunday, Mr Coons told the BBC the statement had not been “well received” and he expected "some reconsideration of whatever comments may have been made about the moment of Brexit".

"The special relationship between the US and the UK has endured over decades and I expect that there will be opportunities promptly for there to be some visits, some conversations,” he said.

The US is our closest and most important ally

“But frankly rather than relitigating or revisiting comments that may have been made days or years ago I think as we reimagine our engagement with our vital allies around the world, it’s important in a post-Trump era to have an open mind about how we can work together, especially with nations as important to the US as the UK.”

On Sunday, Mr Johnson welcomed in Mr Biden and said he hoped a trade deal could be reached.

“The US is our closest and most important ally,” said Mr Johnson. “And that’s been the case under president after president, prime minister after prime minister. It won't change.

"But on the trade deal with the US, I'm a keen student of the US's trade policy and they're tough negotiators," he said.

"And I've never believed that this was going to be something that was going to be a complete pushover under any US administration. I think there's a good chance we'll do something.

Foreign minister Dominic Raab echoed his comments.

"He (President-elect Joe Biden) will have no greater ally, no more dependable friend than the UK,” he said.

Mr Johnson, who was once fondly dubbed "Britain Trump" by President Donald Trump, may have an uphill battle to win over Mr Biden, who served as vice president under Mr Obama at the time the ‘part-Kenyan’ comments were made.

Finding common ground on the climate

On Sunday, Mr Johnson stressed his commitment to internationalism, particularly in the fight against climate change, a topic where he and Mr Biden share a common view.

I think now ... we have the real prospect of American global leadership in tackling climate change

While President Donald Trump has dismissed the threats posed by a changing climate and pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord — a decision Mr Biden has indicated he will reverse — Mr Johnson has committed the UK to reducing its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Britain is due to host the postponed COP26 global climate summit in 2021.

“I think now with President Biden in the White House in Washington, we have the real prospect of American global leadership in tackling climate change," said Mr Johnson.

“There is far more that unites the government of this country and government in Washington any time, any stage, than divides us.

“We have common values. We have common interests. We have a common global perspective. There’s a huge amount of work we need to do together to protect those values: a belief in democracy, in free speech around the world, in human rights, in free trade, in the rules-based international order.”

Mr Johnson's call to find commonality certainly chimed with Joe Biden's victory speech in which emphasised the need to heal division and transcend partisanship.

Mr Raab and other members of the governing Conservative Party were keen to underline how much overlap there now was between the incoming US administration and that of the British government on shared interests.

"I am very confident from climate change to cooperation on coronavirus and counter-terrorism there is a huge bedrock of underlying interests and values that binds us very closely together," Mr Raab told Sky News.

Conservative former finance minister Sajid Javid echoed his views, calling the election the "best outcome" for Britain and predicting that Mr Johnson had a much better chance of sealing a trade deal under Mr Biden rather than the "protectionist" Mr Trump.

Having recently signed a major trade accord with Japan, Britain is pursuing deals around the world ahead of leaving the EU in January, to try to project Johnson's vision of a "global Britain" but talks with the US have slowed over the last few months.

But it is Britain's trade talks with the EU that might cast a shadow over the relationship between the pair, after the US President-elect expressed concerns over whether Britain would uphold Northern Ireland's 1998 peace agreement and said he had hoped for a "different outcome" from the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The British government has repeatedly said it would uphold the Good Friday Agreement, which ended 30 years of violence in the British province of Northern Ireland, and on Sunday, Mr Raab accused the EU of putting it in jeopardy in their talks.