British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United States President Joe Biden are expected to reaffirm relations between their two countries on the eve of the G7 summit, despite warnings from Washington about latent tensions over Brexit.
The two are expected to agree on an ‘Atlantic charter’ when they meet in Cornwall, southwest England on Thursday for their first face-to-face talks since Biden took office in January.
The deal will build on the historic 1941 joint statement made by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill and then-President Franklin D Roosevelt, which set out Washington’s and London’s vision for a new world order after WWII.
Johnson and Biden have also reportedly set up a task force to review the resumption of travel between the UK and the US, which has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and discuss how to deliver vaccines to countries the poorest in the world.
But the talks could be clouded when Biden, as expected, warns Johnson – one of the leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign – of the friction in Northern Ireland sparked by the UK’s departure from the European Union.
The US leader fears that Johnson’s passionate disagreements with the bloc over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol to the Brexit deal could undermine a peace deal brokered by the US in 1998 – the Accord of Good Friday – which ended 30 years of bloodshed in the region.
“President Biden has been very clear about his steadfast belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.
“Any action that would endanger or undermine it would not be welcome in the United States. “
Biden seeks to ‘bind his allies closely’
Biden’s visit to the UK marks his first overseas trip since becoming president.
After meeting Johnson, he will attend the G7 summit in Cornwall from Friday to Sunday, with the British Prime Minister and leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.
Biden will then attend a NATO summit on Monday, a US-European summit on Tuesday, and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva the next day.
He will try to use the trip to spruce up his multilateral credentials after the uproar of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has left many American allies in Europe and Asia perplexed and some alienated.
James Bays of Al Jazeera, reporting from Cornwall, said Biden’s idea was to “bind his allies tightly” after Trump’s years in office.
“We’re going to see this with the G7 partners first, then with the NATO alliance which certainly took bruises after Trump… then with the EU,” Bays said.
Biden wants to “put all of these allies on the same page with a range of different global issues” including COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, climate change and how to deal with rival powers such as China and Russia, he added.
Since the last G7 meeting two years ago, COVID-19 has killed more than 3.7 million people worldwide and decimated economies hit by strict closures and massive layoffs.
As criticism grows on a WHO study in January and February on the origins of the coronavirus, the US president will also encourage G7 leaders to call for a second WHO investigation, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing a draft release disclosed.
Hours after this report, EU leaders themselves called for a new unfettered study into the origins of COVID-19, which was first identified in central China in late 2019.
“Investigators need full access to everything necessary to really find the source of this pandemic,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, echoed von der Leyen’s call.
“The world has a right to know exactly what happened so that they can learn from it,” he said.
But EU diplomats said the EU’s support for a new study is mostly symbolic, as the bloc would not be directly involved.
Last month, the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva said the WHO’s initial report was “insufficient and inconclusive”, calling for a second investigation, including in China.
Biden said in May that U.S. intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories, potentially including the possibility of a lab accident in China.
The WHO report said the virus was likely transmitted from bats to humans via another animal, and that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered as an extremely unlikely path “.