Boris Johnson and Joe Biden discuss climate change and democracy in first phone call

Downing Street will celebrate PM being near top of list for chat with president-elect

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 10 November 2020 17:02 GMT
PM congratulates Biden and Harris on election victory

Boris Johnson has spoken by phone with Joe Biden to congratulate him on his victory in the US presidential election and invite him to the UK for next year’s UN climate change summit in Glasgow.

To the great satisfaction of Downing Street, the British prime minister was among the first world leaders to talk to the president-elect, ahead of German chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s president Emmanuel Macron and behind only Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

Observers had suggested that Mr Biden would wait before speaking to the UK leader, after issuing a sharp warning to him not to allow the Northern Irish peace process to become a casualty of Brexit.

Mr Johnson, who has never met the president-elect, said he discussed his hopes of being able to strengthen UK-US cooperation in areas like climate change and supporting democracy around the world.

And he cited the “building back better” slogan used by both Mr Biden and himself to promote their plans to use investment to drive economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

“I just spoke to Joe Biden to congratulate him on his election,” said Mr Johnson. 

“I look forward to strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities – from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the pandemic.”

The call at 4pm lasted about 25 minutes and was taken by Mr Johnson in his office in 10 Downing Street. 

The Elysee Palace later announced that Mr Macron had spoken to the president-elect a few minutes later, at around 4.30pm UK time. Ms Merkel’s office revealed around an hour later that she had spoken with Mr Biden today, though her spokesperson did not specify a time.

The calls followed bizarre developments in Dublin, where the Twitter account of taoiseach Micheal Martin announced a “very positive” discussion with Mr Biden, only for the message to be deleted as officials admitted the call had not yet happened.

Mr Martin spoke for about 20 minutes later in the day with the president-elect, said Irish journalist Micheal Lehane, who commented that Mr Biden – who has Irish roots – was so tuned-in to events in the Republic that he was able to discuss Mayo’s victory in a football cup tie at the weekend.

“Mr Biden restated his deep commitment to Good Friday Agreement,” said Mr Lehane. “He said Ireland can be a bridge builder as part of his efforts to restore good relations between the US and EU.”

There had been speculation that Mr Johnson might struggle to form a close relationship with the president-elect because of Mr Biden’s dissatisfaction with the potential threat to stability in Ireland from Brexit legislation currently going through parliament to allow UK ministers to override last year’s withdrawal agreement with Brussels. 

Members of Mr Biden’s team were said to still be angry with the PM for his comments about Barack Obama’s “part-Kenyan” ancestry, while the president-elect himself previously described Mr Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “In a call this afternoon the prime minister warmly congratulated Joe Biden on his election as president of the United States.

“The prime minister also conveyed his congratulations to vice president-elect Kamala Harris on her historic achievement.

“They discussed the close and longstanding relationship between our countries and committed to building on this partnership in the years ahead, in areas such as trade and security – including through Nato.

“The prime minister and president-elect also looked forward to working closely together on their shared priorities, from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy, and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The prime minister invited the president-elect to attend the COP26 climate change summit that the UK is hosting in Glasgow next year. They also looked forward to seeing each other in person, including when the UK hosts the G7 summit in 2021.”

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