U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson emerged from their first face-to-face meeting boasting of a renewed trans-Atlantic alliance and vowing to jointly protect the “delicate balance” in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson signed a new version of the Atlantic Charter on Thursday in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, a largely symbolic renewing of the original that was signed 80 years earlier by their predecessors Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
Speaking before the document was signed, a senior U.S. official hailed the updated agreement as a “profound statement of purpose” that delivered the message that “the democratic model is the right and the just and the best” for a world grappling with the pandemic, a global economy just starting to emerge from recession, and rising authoritarianism.
The two leaders held their bilateral meeting a day before Britain plays host to the first face-to-face Group of Seven summit – which also includes the leaders of Canada, Germany, France, Japan and Italy – in two years. The conversation with Mr. Biden, which lasted roughly 90 minutes, was hailed as a “a big breath of fresh air” by Mr. Johnson.
Recovery from the pandemic – and specifically Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson’s attempts to persuade the other leaders to join a global vaccine-sharing plan – are expected to dominate the weekend G7 summit, and the United States on Thursday announced its plans to donate 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to some 100 countries facing shortages of the medicines.
“The United States is providing these half billion doses, with no strings attached. No strings attached. Our vaccine donations don’t include pressure for favours, or potential concessions. We’re doing this to save lives,” Mr. Biden said Thursday, referring to allegations that China and Russia sought to make political gains in countries to which they have supplied vaccines.
A leaked version of the G7 final communiqué, seen by Bloomberg News, reportedly calls for the G7 to supply a combined one billion doses over the next year. The communiqué is also said to call for a fresh investigation into the origins of COVID-19 that would be led by the World Health Organization and “free from interference.”
The wording is another poke at China, which has carefully managed expert access to the Wuhan region, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, and reflects a divide in the U.S. intelligence committee about whether COVID-19 had a natural origin or somehow escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The eight points of the 1941 Atlantic Charter laid the foundation for the post-Second World War order – including the eventual establishment of institutions such as the United Nations, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – by laying out shared principles such as national self-determination and global economic co-operation. The updated version also has eight points but is more of a list of the challenges the world faces, rather than proposed solutions.
The document highlights the dangers posed by threats such as climate change, global health threats and cyberattacks, while committing the two countries to “defend the principles, values, and institutions of democracy and open societies.”
Mr. Biden has signalled that he will put democracy promotion, and strengthening his country’s alliances, at the centre of his eight-day European trip, which also includes a NATO summit and a meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels next week, followed by a head-to-head encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson appeared to get on amicably in a brief appearance before their meeting, putting to rest concerns that there would be tensions over remarks Mr. Biden made during last year’s presidential election campaign when Mr. Biden called Mr. Johnson – a populist who led the campaign for Britain’s departure from the EU – a “physical and emotional clone” of his rival Donald Trump.
While British and American media had both forecast that the two men could clash over Northern Ireland, amid escalating tension between Britain and the EU over the future of what’s known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol, which is reviled by Unionists in Northern Ireland, is designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland by having Northern Ireland maintain the EU’s trading rules even after Britain’s departure from the EU at the end of last year. The protocol has become the subject of an increasingly bitter dispute between Britain and the EU after Mr. Johnson’s government unilaterally delayed implementing parts of the protocol that call for checks on the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.
While Mr. Johnson has called for European leaders to compromise, the EU has signalled it could slap Britain with punitive tariffs if it continued to delay implementing the protocol.
Mr. Biden, who is openly proud of his Irish heritage, has signalled he won’t support any steps that undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The agreement brought an end to three decades of fighting between Republicans, who sought a united Ireland, and Unionists, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. More than 3,000 people died in the sporadic violence.
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