Boris Johnson arrives at White House for talks with Joe Biden

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Boris Johnson meets with Joe Biden at the White House (PA)
Boris Johnson meets with Joe Biden at the White House (PA)

Boris Johnson arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening for talks with Joe Biden after downplaying the likelihood of striking a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

It marks his first visit since Mr Biden succeeded Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Mr Biden said he was “honoured” to welcome the prime minister as they sat side by side in the Oval Office.

The leaders are expected to discuss the stalled trade talks, as well as what further efforts they can take to address the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

However, Mr Johnson began by welcoming the removal of the blanket travel ban on the UK and progress on trade including the ban on British beef.

He hailed the “most important part” of Mr Biden’s UN General Assembly speech to be his commitment to doubling the US climate change aid to $11.4bn a year.

Turning to the president, Mr Johnson said: “It’s fantastic to see the United States really stepping up and showing a lead, a real real lead.”

He also praised the bravery of US troops in the Afghanistan evacuations.

Boris Johnson and vice president Kamala Harris wave from a balcony of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (PA)
Boris Johnson and vice president Kamala Harris wave from a balcony of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (PA)

Earlier in the day, the PM was unable to commit to securing the comprehensive free trade deal that was touted as a prize of Brexit by Leave supporters during the EU referendum.

Speaking earlier in New York where he has been attending a UN summit, he said there were “plenty of reason to be optimistic” about getting the free trade agreement (FTA) with the US.

But the Vote Leave figurehead earlier downplayed the prospect of achieving this by the next election.

His concession came after suggesting trade negotiations are not a priority for the Mr Biden, who he accepted has “a lot of fish to fry”.

Asked if he would get the deal by 2024, Mr Johnson told Sky News: “We will keep going with free trade deals around the world including in the United States.

“I have plenty of reason to be optimistic about that. But the Americans do negotiate very hard.”

The prime minister conceded Britain and the US could have possibly taken a different course over the withdrawal of troops of Afghanistan.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

“America has been there for 20 years and it’s a respectable argument to say that enough is enough. Look, I mean, could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could,” he told NBC.

Travelling on an Amtrak train to DC, Mr Johnson had been buoyed by the announcement the US will drop the blanket ban on travellers arriving from the UK due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, No 10 appeared blindsided by Monday’s announcement, raising questions over the state of communications between the White House and Downing Street.

Just one day before the end of the ban was announced, Mr Johnson was downplaying to reporters any expectations that he could “crack” the issue this week.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

He also seemed negative about the prospect of getting a trade deal in place any time soon.

“On the FTA, the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry,” Mr Johnson said.

In the run-up to the EU referendum in 2016, then-president Barack Obama warned Britons they would be at the “back of the queue” for any trade deal if they voted for Brexit.

The EU departure also presents a quandary to the prime minister’s relationship with Mr Biden, who is vocally proud of his Irish heritage and has warned there will be no trade deal if peace in Northern Ireland is jeopardised.

The White House (PA)
The White House (PA)

A major diplomatic row has also broken out over a new military pact between the UK, US and Australia because it scuppered a multibillion-dollar contract for France to provide submarines to Australia.

France took the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra, but declined to do the same from London, accusing the UK of being America’s lapdog.

After meeting Mr Biden and vice president Kamala Harris in the White House, Mr Johnson will have dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Washington.

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