President Joe Biden made his first stop on his international trip today as he met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the eve of the G-7 summit to be held in Cornwall, England this weekend. Biden visits the UK at a time when tensions between London and the European Union are reaching a new high as both of them fight over the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, a crucial part of the divorce agreement signed between both parties in 2019.
Although Biden did not discuss the issue publicly during his visit, it has been reported that the Biden administration warned Prime Minister Johnson against any action that could endanger the integrity of the Good Friday agreements, which finalized decades of violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
The tense post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU was not the only issue that could cast a shade over the first meeting between the Biden administration and the Johnson government. Biden had previously voiced some criticisms towards the Tory PM, calling him a “physical and emotional clone” of former President Trump which is a comparison that many (although not Boris himself) have entertained.
However, the meeting appeared to be as cordial as possible. With both Johnson and Biden holding a messy but amicable informal meeting (not a press conference) with the press corps covering the event, Johnson then said that Biden was a “breath of fresh air” and Biden said that both leaders have “affirmed” the special relationship between the UK and the U.S.
Besides the meeting between both leaders, both London and Washington D.C reaffirmed the alliance by issuing a “new Atlantic charter”, which was the document originally signed by FDR and Churchill in the middle of WW2.
In it, Johnson and Biden committed to working together to: defend the democratic values and norms, strengthening international institutions, respecting the principles of national sovereignty, invest in science, maintaining collective security through NATO, creating a sustainable economy, working together in the issue of climate change, and in the prevention of future health crisis.
Although these points would surely be on the minds of both Western leaders as they face challenges to the order established after the fall of the USSR, with a rising China in Asia and a tense relationship with Russia in Eastern Europe, the charter itself is light on detail and there are significant hurdles to reach a full cooperation in the Western world on these issues.
Despite the pleasantries between both the President and the Prime Minister, the tensions between the British government and the European Union will surely be unavoidable during the incoming G7 summit, and the United States will certainly be in an uncomfortable situation while two of its allies have a toxic spat on issues like fishing rights and sausage regulations.
What happens after Biden visits the UK? G7 Summit and talks with Putin
The G7 summit will be held during the weekend, where Biden and Johnson will meet with the leaders from Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, plus the leaders of the EU. The last time all of these leaders met was in 2019, as last year’s summit was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.
According to the official website of this year’s summit, the topics of discussion will be: leading the worldwide recovery from the COVID pandemic while preventing future ones, promoting economic growth based on free and fair trade, discussing solutions on the climate change issue, and defending the shared values of the G7 members.
The issue of global vaccination efforts will surely be heavily discussed by the leaders, as the U.S has committed itself to buy 500 million Pfizer doses to donate to the developing world and with Johnson announcing the members will commit to donating 1 billion doses around the world.
After the summit ends Biden will then travel to Geneva, where he is going to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in a highly anticipated summit. Russia and the U.S have had a rough start during the Biden presidency. The American leader called Putin a “killer” during his first weeks in office, and the U.S. and its allies imposed sanctions on several Russian public officials for the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.
Tensions reached their highest point in months earlier this year when Russia started to mobilize thousands of troops towards its border with Ukraine, which has become a central point in the frictions between the West and the Kremlin. Eventually, both sides de-escalate the situation, but the balance in Ukraine remains a precarious one as both pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv fight in the eastern parts of the country.
Other issues like Russian hacking or its alliances with regimes that are hostile to the U.S (like Venezuela, Iran, etc.) will surely be among the topics of discussion in the meeting between both leaders.
Although official meetings and summits do not necessarily result in immediate action in the complicated world of international affairs, this first tour by Biden will give us a glimpse on his priorities over the next four years and on wether he possesses the skills to effectively respond to the growing geopolitical challenges the United States is facing.