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Boris Johnson hails Joe Biden as ‘breath of fresh air’ ahead of White House meeting

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Boris Johnson hailed Joe Biden as “a breath of fresh air” ahead of his first White House meeting with the US President later on Tuesday.

In an interview with NBC News/Today, aired on Tuesday morning in the US, the Prime Minister underlined the importance of the special relationship between London and Washington, highlighting how he and the President share similar goals on tackling climate change.

“It is the job of any Prime Minister of the UK to have a good relationship with the President of the United States,” Mr Johnson told NBC News. “That applies to Donald Trump. It applies to Joe Biden.

The Prime Minister underlined the importance of the special relationship between London and Washington (NBC NEWS/TODAY)
The Prime Minister underlined the importance of the special relationship between London and Washington (NBC NEWS/TODAY)

“But what I will say about Joe Biden, dealing with the new American president, yes, it is a breath of fresh air in the sense that there are some things on which we can really, really work together.

“He wants to cut CO2. He wants to get to net zero by 2050. And he shares, with me, a basic view that you can do this without penalising the economy.”

On China’s angry reaction to the new “Aukus” security partnership between the US, Britain and Australia, which will allow the latter to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, Mr Johnson rejected accusations from Beijing that it was a provocative move, with claims also that Canberra should expect the worst.

The Prime Minister said: “I think that’s ridiculous. And there’s no need whatsoever for anybody to construe this as adversarial towards them. This is about technology transfer.”

Despite recent tensions over the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – which left the UK scrambling to evacuate British citizens and Afghan nationals - Mr Johnson is hoping the White House talks will help him deliver on his key climate targets ahead of the crunch COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year.

The pair are also set to discuss the UK’s push for a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, although ahead of the talks Mr Johnson played down the prospect of making much progress insisting it was important to get a good deal rather than a quick deal.

In a boost to the Prime Minister before the meeting the US announced it will lift stringent travel restrictions for UK nationals who are double vaccinated from November.

On Afghanistan, Mr Johnson said he backed Mr Biden’s decision to pull troops out, even if he believed it could have been handled “differently”.

“America has been there for 20 years,” Mr Johnson told NBC. “It’s a respectable argument to say enough is enough. You can’t endlessly sub contract the government of your country to other people. There has to be some sort of system.

Asked if he agreed with Mr Biden’s move, he added: “I mean, could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe.”

He went on: “My country, the UK, owes a big debt to the US military for the incredible professionalism and sacrifice they showed at that airport, the Hamid Karzai International Airport. It was an amazing operation. It’s never going to be an easy thing to do to pull out of somewhere like Afghanistan after 20 years in a clean and straightforward way. But you can’t spend your whole time trying to run another country by proxy.

“I think that it was a massive logistical success, what they did.”

Questioned on whether there was a failure of intelligence in the run-up to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Mr Johnson said: “There was a spectrum of advice, a spectrum of predictions from the intelligence people, amongst which was the possibility that Kabul would collapse very fast and that the Taliban would take over very fast. Of course, you’ve got to look back on it with mixed feelings.”

He added that he didn’t feel snubbed by Mr Biden as the US pressed ahead with the withdrawal in the face of vocal opposition from the UK and European allies.

“I don’t discuss my calls with others,” he said. “But to the best of my recollection, we talked very frankly about the whole thing.”

Asked to compare the US and UK approaches to Covid vaccination, Mr Johnson rejected the suggestion Britain would follow the US in mandating people who have so far refused to get jabbed.

“Different strokes for different folks, okay?,” Mr Johnson said. “It’s up to different countries to decide how they want to approach this. There is a very controversial area. People feel very strongly about not having the state mandate something. In my country, we’re at great levels of liberty. We’ve had to do it by sweet reason and persuasion. And that’s working.

Pressed by interviewer Savannah Guthrie what happened “when sweet reason and persuasion don’t work”, the Prime Minister replied: “Keep going. More sweet reason.”

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