Prime Minister Stephen Harper had barely finished addressing a group of British members of Parliament on Thursday in Westminster when British Prime Minister David Cameron leaped to his feet applauding.
The gesture was more than just politeness; it was an indication of the close relationship that has developed between the two men. And it’s clear that they will be relying on each other’s support during the upcoming G8 summit in Northern Ireland and in the trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union.
Mr. Harper was only the second Canadian prime minister to address the British Parliament (the other was William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1944). He spoke to about 100 MPs and Lords in the Robing Room, an ornate chamber inside Westminster that is the traditional place for these kinds of speeches. The room is where the Queen literally puts on her robes before giving an address to open a parliamentary session. And by tradition, just about everyone stood during Mr. Harper’s remarks.
During the speech, Mr. Harper went out of his way to praise Mr. Cameron for backing Canada in the trade discussions with the EU, which have gone on for months.
“I should like to express my deep appreciation to you and to your government for your robust advocacy on behalf of this agreement,” he said looking at Mr. Cameron, who sat nearby. “It will be a great benefit to all of our citizens.”
Mr. Harper also offered a strong endorsement of Mr. Cameron’s economic policies, including cutting government spending. Those policies have been sharply criticized in Britain and by the International Monetary Fund, which has called on Mr. Cameron to ease back on austerity measures.
“I acknowledge and applaud your own leadership in taking tough decisions to rein in spending,” Mr. Harper said, adding that Mr. Cameron has “set a powerful and necessary example to other nations as they grapple with massive sovereign debts of their own.”
Canada and Britain have been among the most ardent advocates for austerity within the G8 and G7. At a G7 Finance Ministers meeting in May, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty expressed concern that some G7 countries had been “straying” from the notion of balanced budgets. France’s Finance Minister, Pierre Moscovici, shot back, calling the insistence on austerity a “dogma which slows growth.”
Mr. Cameron has reciprocated with warm words this week, referring to Mr. Harper as “Stephen” during a press conference on Wednesday and telling reporters that the Canadian Prime Minister “has been a huge supporter to the United Kingdom and also been a great supporter to me, so I always enjoy meeting with him and talking to him.” He also spoke about the importance of reaching a Canada-EU trade deal, saying Canada and Britain “should be demonstrating to the rest of the world that these bilateral trade agreements can drive growth.”
After Mr. Harper’s speech, the two met for lunch in the House of Commons and strolled about the Parliament buildings with Mr. Cameron acting like a tour guide. “I’ve never been on it,” Mr. Harper said at one point, pointing to the London Eye, the gigantic Ferris wheel located along the Thames. “It would be great for you to take your little girl on it,” Mr. Cameron replied.
It was the second personal meeting in three months between the two leaders, both Conservatives. Mr. Harper had dinner at 10 Downing St. in April while he was in London to attend the funeral of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. That dinner brought together other conservatives, including former United States vice-president Dick Cheney and former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Not everything went so smoothly on Thursday. Police arrested three protesters who climbed a roof of Westminster and two others who managed to get inside the building. Just before Mr. Harper spoke, the doors to the room slammed shut as police rounded up the demonstrators, who were protesting against Canada’s development of the oil sands.