Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Biden particularly pleased to welcome Europe-leaning Starmer who is promising both change and continuity

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While President Biden was as warm in his pleasantries with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak – Sir Keir who is more politically aligned to the US Democrats – was warmly welcomed into the Oval Office.

By Beth Rigby, Political editor @BethRigby

The special relationship between the US and UK is forged on shared history, common values, and diplomatic ties that are far deeper and enduring that any one president or prime minister.

But there was no doubt that President Joe Biden seemed particularly pleased to welcome the new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer to the Oval Office for their first bi-lateral meeting since he was elected leader less than a week ago.

Because, while President Biden was as warm in his pleasantries to the other two prime ministers I’ve seen sit in the chair in the Oval Office – Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak – Sir Keir is more politically aligned to the US Democrats.

Unlike his two predecessors, Sir Keir wasn’t a proponent of Brexit, a decision that had put some strain on the special relationship in recent years.

But President Biden opened the meeting signalling his backing of Sir Keir’s ambitions to take the UK back closer to the European Union.

Biden and Starmer shared a handshake at the NATO summit before meeting at the White House. Pic: Reuters

The US leader, who was a critic of Brexit and voiced his concerns about the fall-out of the decision on the peace process on the island of Ireland, told media from the US and UK that he viewed London as the “knot that ties the transatlantic alliance [NATO] together”.

“The closer you are with Europe. We know where you are, you know where we are,” he said, to which Sir Keir replied: “Well that is absolutely right.”

So while Sir Keir leans more into Europe, President Biden and allies are also happy that, when it comes to NATO and Ukraine, the new prime minister is presenting continuity from Mr Sunak.

He has recommitted to the £3bn funding package laid out by his predecessor and also came to the NATO summit with an “iron-cast commitment” to lift Britain’s spending on defence to 2.5% – although, in contrast to Mr Sunak, he hasn’t put a timeframe on when that will be achieved.

‘Is football coming home, prime minister?’

In the read-out after the prime minister and president bi-lateral – which I hear went over time – the UK government said the duo had “reflected on the importance of the NATO alliance and the special relationship in the context of current geopolitical challenges, including the ongoing war in Ukraine”.

They agreed both countries must continue to do “whatever it takes to support Ukraine and ensure aggressors like Putin do not win”.

The UK government also said the president had “welcomed the prime minister’s recent comments on establishing closer relationships with our European counterparts, as well as the UK’s commitment to AUKUS. They reflected that at a time when we face growing challenges across the world, we are at our strongest when we unite and work together”.

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Sir Keir has brought Nick Thomas-Symonds, the cabinet minister responsible for EU relations, with him to this summit as he looks to accelerate talks on forging closer relations with EU leaders.

The new government has started the process of trying to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and is also setting up a new EU security pact.

Read more from Sky News:
George Clooney calls on Biden to drop out of presidential race
F-16 fighter jets to take to ‘Ukrainian skies this summer’
Starmer flexes diplomatic muscles at NATO summit

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Mr Starmer and President Biden also joked about football, as they met shortly after England’s victory over the Netherlands to win a place in the Euros finals.

Asked in the Oval Office if football’s coming home? Sir Keir replied: “It looks like it”, while President Biden joked: “It’s because of the prime minister.”

Sir Keir, an Arsenal season ticket holder, will attend the final in Germany on Sunday.

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