Boris Johnson’s G-7 Plans Get a Timely Boost From Joe Biden
(Bloomberg) -- Behind many a successful British leader on the world stage was a collaborative American president. And in Joe Biden, there are early signs that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has found a profitable partner.
As he prepares to host the Group of Seven summit in southwest England this week, Johnson is benefiting from Biden’s commitment to teaming with other countries in the face of unprecedented threats following the disruption of the Donald Trump era.
Thanks to an injection of American momentum, the U.K. has secured a substantial G-7 deal on global tax reform to make big tech companies pay more in the countries where they operate. It had been a key plank of British policy but one that had moved only slowly until the Biden administration threw its weight behind the idea.
Their task now is to work together to deliver deals on climate change and commitments to revive the world economy after the pandemic. Johnson has set goals for the U.K. presidency of the G-7 and of the COP26 climate talks in November. He has already surprised some diplomats from other nations with how successful his government’s agenda has been.
“The fact that the summit has agreed so much already is good news for Boris Johnson and it’s a good opportunity to state once again that relationships matter,” said Karin von Hippel, director general of the Royal United Services Institute in London and a specialist on U.S. foreign policy. “Biden is the most experienced foreign policy president in decades.”
The two men have never met and will come together for the first time on Thursday. At first glance, the alliance between Johnson—the face of Brexit—and Biden—who opposed the U.K.’s split from the European Union—is a surprise. It’s certainly not without potential for tension.
One key focus in coming days is likely to be Northern Ireland, and the consequences of Brexit on the U.K. region. Biden, who is famously proud of his Irish ancestry, has previously warned Johnson he will scrap plans for a trade deal if the U.K. jeopardizes peace on the island of Ireland.
“You can look at the U.K.-U.S. relationship as a cake with a cherry on it,” said Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to Washington. “The cake is the meaningful infrastructural bulk of converging interests between the two countries. The cherry on top is the personal relationship: whether the two men hit it off.”
Indeed, Northern Ireland will be a key test of that. The EU is threatening fresh action against the British government in the dispute over how trade rules apply to the region.
Difficult negotiations between U.K. and European officials are taking place in London as Biden prepares to arrive in Cornwall, and Johnson will be bringing his Brexit minister, David Frost, to the G-7 summit. Officials from both sides will meet on Wednesday to try and defuse the row as it threatens to spill over into the summit, though few expect a breakthrough.
Biden is under some domestic pressure to show he’s serious about supporting the position of Ireland—an EU member state—and post-Brexit tensions are likely to feature in many of Johnson’s one-to-one meetings with leaders. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will be among the guests in the Cornish seaside resort of Carbis Bay.
Yet, there’s already plenty of evidence that the policies of Johnson and Biden are coalescing. Meyer, the former ambassador, pointed to military engagement together in the South China Sea. A Royal Navy warship will carry 10 American jet fighters as well as 250 U.S. marines as part of a 1,700-strong crew. While Trump lauded Johnson and the vote to leave the EU, the promise of a quick trade deal fizzled.
“Donald Trump of blessed memory loved Boris and loved the Queen and loved Brexit, but he never delivered,” Meyer said. “From Biden, although we’ve had some tough rhetorical passages, the evidence of converged interest is there.”
Johnson will be keen not to let Northern Ireland derail any rekindling of what used to be called the “special relationship” between London and Washington, though No. 10 Downing Street this week confirmed Johnson the prime minister doesn’t use the phrase. One senior member of the governing Conservatives who knows both men predicted Biden and Johnson would put aside any past difficulties and work well together.
For the U.S. president, the summit is also a matter of building bridges with other international allies beyond the U.K., von Hippel said.
“After Trump, it’s a clean-up operation,” she said. “They’re more concerned about building trust.”
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