UK and Ireland court Biden in congratulatory calls

James PHEwith Joe STENSON in Dublin
·3-min read

The leaders of Britain and Ireland on Tuesday spoke to Joe Biden, talking climate change and Brexit in a rush of calls with the US president-elect reflecting key policy priorities.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin were among the first world leaders to talk to the incoming president, after his election victory on Saturday.

In a flurry of calls, Biden also spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Downing Street said Johnson had a 20-minute phone call with the Democrat, in which he also described vice president-elect Kamala Harris' win as a "historic achievement."

"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," Johnson wrote on Twitter.

They also discussed areas "such as trade and security -- including through NATO", he added.

Johnson said he was also looking forward to seeing Biden when Britain takes over the rotating presidency of the G7 next year and invited him to attend the UN's COP26 climate change summit.

The summit had been due to be held this week in the Scottish city of Glasgow but has been postponed to next November because of the coronavirus pandemic.

- 'Shapeshifting creep'-

London is hoping work to tackle climate change can thaw frosty relations between Johnson and Biden's camp, which have been strained over Brexit and the prime minister's past comments.

Biden, who has strong Irish roots, has spoken out at a British plan to override parts of the Brexit treaty it signed that Democrats fear could undermine peace in Northern Ireland.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin called his call "warm and engaging".

His office said Biden "reaffirmed his full support for the Good Friday Agreement", which ended three decades of violence over British rule in Northern Ireland.

"They discussed the importance of a Brexit outcome that respects the GFA and ensures no return of a border on the island of Ireland" -- a key part of the 1998 peace accord.

Biden and top Democrats have warned that Johnson can effectively forget about a UK-US trade deal if Brexit scuppers the hard-won peace brokered by the United States.

His relationship with Johnson will be closely watched, after he called the populist UK prime minister a "physical and emotional clone" of President Donald Trump last year.

Biden was also vice-president in 2016 when Johnson said president Barack Obama was anti-UK because of his "part-Kenyan" heritage and "ancestral dislike of the British Empire".

Former Obama aide Tommy Vietor was critical of Johnson's congratulations to Biden after his victory was announced on Saturday.

"This shapeshifting creep weighs in," Vietor tweeted. "We will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump but neat Instagram graphic."

But in policy terms, Britain is still far more aligned with Biden and European allies on issues such as climate change, Iran, Russia and NATO defence.

The British government earlier blamed a "technical error" after Trump's faded-out name appeared in the congratulatory written statement to Biden that was posted online Saturday.

"As you'd expect, two statements were prepared in advance for the outcome of this closely contested election," said a spokesman. 

"A technical error meant that parts of the alternative message were embedded in the background of the graphic."