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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed US President Joe Biden as “a big breath of fresh air” on Thursday because he wanted to work with London on a huge range of issues ranging from climate change to COVID-19 to security.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of the talks with Biden. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together. We went on for about an hour and 20 or so. It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects.”
President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were all smiles during their first meeting, highlighting their nations’ famed “special relationship” against a backdrop of differences both political and personal.
“I told the prime minister we have something in common. We both married way above our station,” Biden joked after a highly choreographed walk with their spouses.
Johnson laughed and said he was “not going to dissent from that one” but then seemed to hint that he would be looking to only improve relations with his American counterpart.
“I’m not going to disagree with you on that,” said Johnson, “or indeed on anything else.”
Both couples — Johnson is newly married — held hands as they walked. First Lady Jill Biden’s black jacket had “LOVE” embroidered on the upper back — a fashion move that recalled her predecessor Melania Trump’s decision to wear a jacket with “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” written on the back during a 2018 trip to a Texas border town.
Despite the exchange of praise and pleasantries, there remain areas of friction. The president staunchly opposed Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union that Johnson championed, and has expressed great concern over the future of Northern Ireland. Biden once called Johnson a “physical and emotional clone” of former US president Donald Trump.
Johnson played down differences with Washington over the impact of Brexit on the peace in Northern Ireland, saying that the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union were in “complete harmony” on finding solutions to uphold the 1998 peace deal.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” Johnson said. “And I think what’s interesting is Northern Ireland is a fantastic place and it’s got amazing potential. It is a great, great part of the UK.”
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, Johnson said: “No, he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground,” Johnson said. “You know, I’m optimistic.”
The leaders also announced a new US-UK task force to work on resuming travel between the two nations, according to a White House official. Most travel has been banned between the two nations since March 2020.
Both sides have stressed publicly that the meeting would be about strengthening ties between longtime allies in a week in which Biden will look to rally the West to rebuff Russian meddling and publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)