Joe Biden meets Boris Johnson: leaders find common ground on eve of G7

UK and US agree on pandemic preparedness plan and new Atlantic Charter

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Joe Biden and Boris Johnson found common ground in their much-anticipated first meeting as leaders of the US and UK on Thursday.

The two leaders met on England's Cornish coast on the eve of this weekend's G7 summit.

They proclaimed a new “Atlantic Charter” to reinvigorate the transatlantic alliance, named after the 1941 pact between wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As part of their agreements, the US and UK will combine efforts to tackle future pandemics through global surveillance and genomic sequencing.

The leaders discussed Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia among other foreign policy issues.

The summit took place under the cloud of tensions over Northern Ireland which had the potential to overshadow the talks.

But greeting Mr Johnson at a seaside hotel, Mr Biden said: “I’m very pleased to be here”.

Speaking after the talks, Mr Johnson described Mr Biden as a “breath of fresh air”.

“The talks were great, they went on for a long time,” he said. “We covered a huge range of subjects.

“It’s wonderful to listen to the Biden administration and to Joe Biden. There’s so much that they want to do together with us, from security and Nato to climate change.”

Asked whether Mr Biden had raised the alarm with Britain about Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson said: "No he didn't".

Amid reports of a formal diplomatic rebuke, the US warned the UK before the talks that it would oppose any move that would undermine the 1998 peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

But Mr Johnson said the UK, US and EU all wanted to uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

"That is absolutely common ground," Mr Johnson said.

Mr Biden said the talks had been "very productive".

"We discharged and discussed a broad range of issues on which the United Kingdom and the United States are working in very close co-operation," he said.

“We talked about the shared sacrifices our service members have made, bravely serving side by side in Afghanistan for close to 20 years.

“The UK was with us from the start as they always are, equally committed to rooting out the terrorist threat.”

The leaders said they would work towards a future UK-US trade agreement and seek to re-open transatlantic travel.

Making his first foreign trip as president, Mr Biden called for global collaboration to rebuild after Covid-19.

The agreement on pandemic preparedness will see the UK's Health Security Agency collaborate with an arm of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

They will aim to establish an early warning system to help lower-income countries who do not have the same surveillance capabilities.

Britain said it was "vital the whole world has access to the UK and US's sophisticated surveillance and sequencing technologies".

"We are sharing our expertise with the world," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

With the world looking to the G7 to help overcome the pandemic, Mr Biden and Mr Johnson are calling for efforts to boost global vaccine supplies.

The US will donate half a billion doses to poorer countries in the next year, the White House announced on Thursday.

Mr Johnson is calling for a pledge to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022.

The British Royal Navy patrols Carbis Bay in St. Ives, Cornwall, England, Thursday, June 10, 2021. Security in the area is being tightened ahead of the upcoming G7 meeting taking place in Carbis Bay. G7 leaders and guests will meet in the the Cornish resort starting Friday, June 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
The UK's Royal Navy patrols Carbis Bay in Cornwall, England. AP 

Wartime echo 

Thursday's summit was the first in-person meeting of UK and US leaders since the end of the tumultuous Donald Trump years.

Mr Biden once described Mr Johnson as a "physical and emotional clone" of Mr Trump.

But since Mr Biden's election, the UK has sought to stress its alignment with him on issues such as climate change.

The leaders had planned to visit the spectacular island of St. Michael’s Mount but the trip was scrapped because of bad weather.

Instead, they met above the beach at the G7 site in Carbis Bay and looked out at the ocean while trading pleasantries.

The two leaders were joined at the Cornwall hotel by their wives Carrie Johnson and Jill Biden.

Eighty years ago, the US president and British prime minister stood together promising a better future. Today, we do the same

Mrs Biden told reporters that her husband was “over prepared” for his meetings during his week in Europe.

“He’s been studying for weeks, working up to today,” she said. “Joe loves foreign policy.”

The event was Mrs Johnson's first major public engagement since she married the Prime Minister on May 29.

"We both married way above our station," Mr Biden joked.

“I’m not going to disagree with you on that,” said Mr Johnson, “or indeed on anything else.”

The first ladies spent the afternoon walking on the Cornish beach together while the leaders held talks.

Mr Biden said the revitalised Atlantic Charter was aimed to "speak directly to the challenges of this century" such as climate change and cyber security.

"We discussed our common goals for driving ambitious climate action to address the climate crisis," he said.

Mr Biden spoke of the UK's "special relationship" with the US, although Mr Johnson has signalled that he dislikes the term.

Mr Johnson described the UK and US as "the closest of partners and the greatest of allies" as he announced the symbolic charter.

"While Churchill and Roosevelt faced the question of how to help the world recover following a devastating war, today we have to reckon with a very different but no less intimidating challenge – how to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic," he said.

"Eighty years ago, the US president and British prime minister stood together promising a better future. Today, we do the same."

Mr Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan described the pact as a "refresher" of the wartime charter.

"There will be an updated statement of principles between the US and the UK as free peoples," he said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are greeted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson, ahead of the G-7 summit, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Carbis Bay, England. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US First Lady Jill Biden wore a jacket with the word LOVE embroidered on the back. AP

Transatlantic travel plans

The new charter calls for action on climate change, biodiversity, cyber threats and economic recovery from the pandemic.

As part of this recovery, Mr Biden and Mr Johnson will seek to relaunch UK-US travel as soon as possible.

A task force will be set up to make recommendations on how to resume transatlantic flights, which have mostly been banned since March 2020.

Mr Johnson will host the three-day G7 summit starting on Friday, attended by Mr Biden and the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and the EU.

Adding to the pressure on Mr Johnson over Northern Ireland, EU leaders said on Thursday that they would tackle the subject at the G7.

"The protocol and the withdrawal agreement has to be implemented, completely," said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

"We will discuss that in a trilateral meeting in Cornwall together. We are determined to do everything to keep peace and stability on the island of Ireland."

Europe is threatening retaliatory action, including tariffs, if the new trading arrangements are not implemented.

After the G7, Mr Biden will visit Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and fly to Brussels for summits with Nato and EU leaders next week.

He will finish his European tour in Geneva, where he will meet Russia's President Vladimir Putin next Wednesday.

Mr Biden said he planned to "meet with Mr Putin to let him know what I want him to know".

"We're not seeking conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship," he said.

"But I've been clear – the United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activities."