Boris Johnson has insisted he does not disagree with Joe Biden on anything as the pair began a potentially tricky meeting in Cornwall.
The US president will use the meeting to warn the British prime minister not to let the row over Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangements put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.
The issue has threatened to overshadow Mr Johnson’s first meeting with the president and his hosting of the G7 summit, which begins on Friday in Carbis Bay.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Biden said he was looking forward to “affirming the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom” – despite Mr Johnson’s dislike of the term to describe the transatlantic partnership because he believes it makes Britain look needy.
The two leaders and their wives – Carrie Johnson and Jill Biden – admired the view over Carbis Bay before their meeting.
Mr Biden said: “I told the prime minister we have something in common. We both married way above our stations.”
Mr Johnson responded: “I’m not going to dissent on that one. I’m not going to disagree with you there or indeed on anything else, I think highly likely.”
Aside from Brexit, Mr Johnson and Mr Biden will work on efforts to resume transatlantic travel and agree a new Atlantic Charter paving the way for co-operation on challenges including climate change and security.
But Mr Biden, who takes pride in his Irish roots, will also raise the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which will feature heavily in discussions with the UK and European Union over the coming days of intense diplomatic activity in Cornwall.
Today, I’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall. I look forward to affirming the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom and discussing how we’ll tackle our shared challenges together in the years ahead.
— President Biden (@POTUS) June 10, 2021
The scale of Mr Biden’s unease about the UK’s approach to the Protocol was revealed in a leaked memo which showed the president took the extraordinary step of ordering the United States’ most senior diplomat in London, Yael Lempert, to deliver a demarche – a formal protest – in a meeting with Brexit minister David Frost on June 3rd.
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”.
Downing Street did not deny the encounter took place. A No 10 spokesman said: “I don’t think you would expect me to get into discussions with other countries.”
The spokesman added that the UK government would continue to seek to work “consensually” with the EU to resolve the impasse.
Talks between Brexit minister Mr Frost and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic on Wednesday failed to make a breakthrough on the Protocol.
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 Mr 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 Britain.
The dispute has inflamed tensions for unionists in Northern Ireland while nationalists oppose a hard border on the island.
Mr Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president has a “rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland”.
He added: “That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States.”
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 will commit the UK and US to apply 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.
Mr Johnson said co-operation between the UK and US – “the closest of partners and the greatest of allies” – will be crucial “for the future of the world’s stability and prosperity”.
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.