Boris Johnson has declared “there’s nothing wrong with being woke”.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, had accused the British prime minister of having “managed to trash” the UK’s reputation as a values-driven nation.
In the interview with the Guardian she praised Joe Biden as a “woke guy” who defends trans rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, saying he offered a possible model for electoral success for the Labour Party.
Mr Johnson was later asked if he considered Mr Biden to be woke – defined as being alert to societal injustices – as he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, taking over from Donald Trump.
“I can’t comment on that. What I know is that he’s a firm believer in the transatlantic alliance and that’s a great thing,” the prime minister told reporters on Wednesday.
“There’s nothing wrong with being woke but what I can tell you is that I think it’s very, very important for everybody to … I certainly put myself in the category of people who believe that it’s important to stick up for your history, your traditions and your values, the things you believe in.”
Ms Nandy had suggested that the Democratic former vice-president could serve as an inspiration for how a Labour leader could triumph without compromising on progressive values and being drawn into culture wars.
“Joe Biden – he’s a woke guy, he appointed an amazingly strong woman of colour who is also pro-choice as his running mate, he mentioned the trans community in his victory speech, he stood up for the Black Lives Matter protesters, he spoke out about the policing of that movement, and he’s never shied away from standing up for his values,” she said in the interview.
Mr Johnson’s embracement of the term woke may not be universally welcomed by some within the Conservative Party.
As recently as Sunday, UK communities secretary Robert Jenrick decried “town hall militants and woke worthies” as he announced laws to protect monuments after the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.
Mr Johnson has also been perceived as being very un-woke, having used racial slurs such as “piccaninnies” and describing then-prime minister Tony Blair being met by “tribal warriors” with “watermelon smiles” on a trip to the Congo.
The prime minister once referred to gay men as “bum boys” and, in a 2018 newspaper column, described veiled Muslim women as “looking like letter boxes”.
His choice of language has also been raised as a potential grounds for friction with the incoming US administration.
Many were offended by his criticism of Barack Obama, who Mr Biden served as vice-president to, as having an “ancestral dislike” of Britain because of his “part-Kenyan” heritage when the then-president came out in support of the Remain campaign.