Johnson seeks to strengthen ties with Biden on back of Aukus

Boris Johnson updates

Boris Johnson will meet Joe Biden in the White House for the first time this week as he seeks to restore transatlantic relations following the west’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Johnson will also use the visit, including a stop-off at the United Nations in New York, to make the case for more action to tackle global warming, ahead of November’s UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The UK prime minister’s visit to Washington comes the week after Johnson and Biden joined forces with Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, to forge a new defence pact in the Asia-Pacific region.

That pact has helped to smooth relations between London and Washington after Britain was openly critical of the president’s decision to pull US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of August.

But the debacle in Kabul strained relations. Meanwhile, Johnson is likely to face pressure in Washington from Biden and Congressional leaders over his handling of the post-Brexit settlement in Northern Ireland.

One British diplomat said they did not expect the meeting to be “too difficult”. They added: “Boris Johnson is not going to lecture him about Afghanistan as there are too many other important issues to discuss”.

Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the US and Americas programme at Chatham House, said: “Afghanistan was obviously a little humiliating for the UK prime minister but it’s pretty clear there is no going back.

“Frankly, Biden doesn’t have any time for spilled milk and he is going to be looking for who is on board his ship. There is no great love lost between Johnson and Biden, but at the same time there is clearly a sense of the significance of the partnership.”

While in the US Johnson will challenge Amazon founder Jeff Bezos at a face-to-face meeting over his company’s tax record.

British officials indicated that concerns surrounding international corporate tax rates for tech giants will be high on the agenda during Johnson’s meeting with the world’s richest man.

“You can expect the PM to raise this important issue as you know we have been an advocate for an international solution to the tax challenges posed by digitalisation of the economy,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said of the meeting between Johnson and Bezos.

In July the world’s leading economies signed up to a plan to force multinational companies to pay a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent following intense negotiations in Paris at the OECD.

The historic agreement among 130 countries will ensure the largest companies, including Big Tech, pay at least $100bn a year more in taxes, with more of that money going to the countries where they do most of their business.

But Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister would also press Bezos on climate change issues. “Obviously we recognise that as one of the largest companies in the world Amazon has a role in addressing issues of climate change and biodiversity,” he said.

One point of tension during the Washington meeting could see Johnson pressured by Biden to work with the EU to end a stand-off over a settlement in Northern Ireland.

Both Biden and a substantial Irish diaspora in Congress have repeatedly called on the UK to honour the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which underpinned the peace settlement in Northern Ireland.

Johnson has raised alarm bells in Washington, warning in recent months that the UK will not hesitate to unilaterally activate Article 16 — the override mechanism that suspends parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, part of Britain’s 2019 Brexit treaty.

“Domestic US politics and Biden’s own views are driving a deep frustration at the UK’s unwillingness (as they see it) to reconcile with the EU and implement the Brexit deal,” said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute.

“The talk of breaking the protocol, and being ready to break international law, does not go down well. There is a pause in the war of words at the moment, but even so this could be a moment of tension.”

Johnson is also expected to raise the possibility of opening a US- UK transatlantic travel corridor with his American counterpart.

Officials said that reiterating international commitments to tackling climate change will be a key priority for Johnson this week when he co-hosts a high-level meeting of world leaders at the UN.

Downing Street said Johnson will call for more pledges from rich economies to help developing countries “grow cleanly and greenly”.

Rich countries have missed a target of $100bn in annual climate aid by 2020, creating mistrust among the 191 countries that signed the Paris agreement. The shortfall in funding sets the scene for difficult discussions at the COP26 summit when it comes to agreeing new goals for climate finance.


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