UK

First meeting between PM and new US President could be video call because of Covid restrictions

Zoom show for Boris and Joe? First meeting between Prime Minister and new US President could be video call because of Covid restrictions

  • The PM may not see the new President in person until summer due to pandemic
  • But any lack of an early invitation to Washington will be seen by some as a snub
  • It would also raise fears about the strength of the so-called Special Relationship 
  • Mr Biden has previously called the Prime Minister a ‘clone’ of Donald Trump

Boris Johnson’s first meeting with Joe Biden could take place in a Zoom video call.

The PM has never met the President and may not see him in person until the summer because of the global pandemic.

The UK was represented at yesterday’s inauguration by Dame Karen Pierce, Britain’s US ambassador.

She said the UK was waiting to hear whether the new administration wanted a face-to-face meeting or a virtual one ahead of the G7 summit in June, when world leaders will gather in Cornwall.

The Ambassador told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We know they want to increase the protections [from Covid-19] so we [will] wait to hear from them in the coming days as to whether that will encompass face- to-face meetings. If it does, we are very practiced by now in having Zoom meetings, virtual meetings, so I’m sure those will take place between the Prime Minister and President Biden. But we wait to hear.’

Choosing her words carefully, she said the diplomatic community was ‘very pleased to see American democracy come out on top’ and looking forward to a ‘period of co-operation’.

Boris Johnson’s first meeting with Joe Biden could take place in a Zoom video call. Pictured: The PM watching yesterday’s inauguration on television

The lack of an early invitation to Washington will be seen by some as a snub, particularly if other Western leaders travel to the US to congratulate Mr Biden in the next few weeks.

It will also raise fears about the strength of the so-called Special Relationship under Mr Biden, who has previously described the PM as a ‘clone’ of Donald Trump.

Following the inauguration of a new US President, world leaders usually race to be the first to secure an invitation to the White House.

In 2017, the race was won by Theresa May, who immediately returned the favour by granting President Trump the honour of a full state visit.

Despite Mr Biden’s long career in frontline politics, and Mr Johnson’s stint as foreign secretary under Mrs May, the two men have never met, and had not even spoken until the Democrat leader beat Mr Trump in November.

Ministers had feared a diplomatic snub from Mr Biden’s team. In 2019, Mr Biden, a strong opponent of Brexit, described Mr Johnson as a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of Donald Trump. But he moved swiftly to build bridges last year. Mr Johnson was the first European leader called by Mr Biden following his victory over Mr Trump in November.

Ministers hope the UK’s hosting of the G7 summit and Cop26 climate conference this year will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to form a bond over their shared commitment to tackling climate change.

Diplomats at the Foreign Office were rejoicing at the departure of Donald Trump, who has caused shockwaves in the department on countless occasions. One diplomat said: ‘Many will not be shedding a tear.’

The feeling was shared on both sides of the Atlantic, with a US source saying: ‘The sigh of relief is not necessarily about policy but more the character of the man leaving the White House.’

Defending his close relationship with Mr Trump, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think it is very important the Prime Minister of the UK has the best possible relationship with the President of the United States. That is part of the job description.’

He later dodged a question yesterday on whether he considered Mr Biden to be ‘woke’ – a US term originally used to describe those concerned about social and racial injustice.

He said there was ‘nothing wrong with being woke’ – but said he would always stand up to those wanting to tear down statues of historical figures like Churchill.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs three documents after his inauguration in Washington yesterday

U.S. President Joe Biden signs three documents after his inauguration in Washington yesterday

It came after Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Lisa Nandy said the election of Mr Biden was a lesson for her party that it was possible for a ‘woke’ politician to win a major election.

She said the President was a ‘woke guy’ who had ‘stood up for the Black Lives Matter protesters’.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson stressed the common ground between the Biden administration and his own.

He said the UK was the first country to set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050s, adding: ‘We hope that president Biden will join us. We will work with President Biden to secure the transatlantic alliance and Nato.’ The issue of Northern Ireland and Brexit has been a source of tensions between the Government and Mr Biden, whose ancestors were Irish Catholics. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis plans to fly out to the US to meet the Biden team for a post-inauguration visit, sources said.

Government officials are also exploring options for better engagement on Northern Ireland in Washington DC. They have had talks about seconding an official from the Northern Ireland Office to the UK embassy in Washington.

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