Johnson urges Nato leaders to remain united amid tensions in the alliance

By Gavin Cordon and Harriet Line, PA Political Staff

Boris Johnson has urged Nato to remain united as leaders gathered for talks amid tensions over the future direction of the Western alliance.

The Prime Minister, who is hosting the 70th anniversary gathering near Watford, said Britain’s commitment remained “absolutely rock solid”.

However, simmering divisions were on display on Tuesday after Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron clashed over the French president’s suggestion the alliance was experiencing a “brain death”.

Mr Trump said the comments were “very, very nasty”” and insulting to other alliance members.

However, Mr Macron insisted he stood by the remarks prompted by Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds of northern Syria – seen as key allies of the West in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) – after it was effectively given the green light by Mr Trump.

Donald Trump leaving a Downing Street reception for Nato leaders with his wife Melania (Steve Parsons/PA)

The ensuing row has led Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to threaten to block Nato plans to expand the defence of the Baltic states and Poland in the face of the growing threat from Russia.

Mr Johnson – who hosted talks with Mr Macron, Mr Erdogan and German chancellor Angela Merkel in Downing Street on Tuesday in an attempt to resolve their differences – sought to play down the divisions.

“Clearly it is very important that the alliance stays together, but there is far, far more that unites us than divides us,” he told reporters as he arrived at The Grove country house hotel, where the meeting is being held.

Downing Street said the leaders had agreed on the need to ensure humanitarian access to refugees displaced by the fighting in northern Syria based on a United Nations “needs assessment”.

“The leaders said they would work to create the conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of refugees and that the fight must be continued against terrorism in all its forms,” a No 10 spokesman said.

Arriving for the talks on Wednesday, Mr Macron again defended his original comments saying they had opened up some “crucial debates” within Nato.

“Those included how to create a durable peace in Europe, clarifying who was the enemy and how to act collectively against international terrorism in particular,” he said.

“It think it was our responsibility to raise ambiguities that could be harmful and to tackle a real strategic debate. It has started, it will continue and I am satisfied.”

In opening remarks at the start of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Mr Johnson said: “Seventy years on, we are rock solid in our commitments to Nato and to the giant shield of solidarity that now protects 29 countries and nearly a billion people.

Emmanuel Macron leaves No 10 (Steve Parsons/PA)

“The fact that we live in peace today demonstrates the power of the simple proposition at the heart of this alliance: that for as long as we stand together, no-one can hope to defeat us, and therefore no-one will start a war.”

Downing Street said the PM held meetings with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Dutch PM Mark Rutte, PM Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia and Italian PM Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, Mr Stoltenberg – who also met Mr Erdogan on Tuesday – has insisted that he remains confident that their differences could be overcome.

“We have plans in place to protect all Nato allies including the Baltic countries and Poland,” he said as he arrived for Wednesday’s meeting.

“I am confident that we will find a solution to the updating of the revised defence plan.”