Boris Johnson sought to play down any differences with Washington over the way Brexit could affect Northern Ireland after talks with Joe Biden at the G7 summit, as he called the US president “a breath of fresh air”.
Speaking to TV reporters after bilateral talks with Biden at the summit venue in Cornwall, where according to Downing Street the pair discussed Covid and the climate emergency, as well as Northern Ireland, Johnson called the discussions “very good”.
“There’s no question that under President Biden there is a massive amount that the new US administration wants to do together with the UK, on everything from security working together, protecting our values around the world together, but also on climate change,” the prime minister said.
“So it’s a big breath of fresh air. It’s new, it’s interesting, and we’re working very hard together.”
Before the G7 summit senior US diplomats in London warned Johnson’s Brexit negotiator Lord Frost that he would inflame tensions in Northern Ireland if he did not compromise with the EU over an impasse about border checks.
Johnson expressed confidence that the US and UK could agree over this issue, but gave no details.
“One thing we all, absolutely want to do, and that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday agreement, and make sure that we keep the balance of the peace process going. That’s absolutely common ground, and I’m absolutely optimistic that we can do that,” he said.
The two leaders were all smiles as they greeted each other on camera before their talks, the location of which had to be moved to the conference hotel from St Michael’s Mount, just off the Cornish coast, because of poor weather.
When Biden said the pair had both “married above our station”, Johnson replied: “I’m not going to disagree with the president on that or anything else.” He added it was “fantastic” to see Biden.
They were meeting before a weekend of talks among the world’s wealthiest countries. Other leaders are due to arrive on Friday.
While Brexit does not feature on the formal agenda, with Johnson telling the Atlantic magazine recently: “We’ve sucked that lemon dry,” the US is concerned about Frost’s tactics over the implementation of post-Brexit border checks in Northern Ireland.
Frost has made a number of combative interventions in recent days, complaining about the “legal purism” of the EU’s approach to implementing the protocol, which he negotiated, and Johnson signed up to.
The government’s former chief law officer, Jonathan Jones, who resigned over Brexit, tweeted: “Is ‘legal purism’ what we now call ‘applying the law’?”
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had hammered home Washington’s message on the way to London on Thursday, telling journalists: “Any steps that imperil or undermine the Good Friday agreement will not be welcomed by the US.”
The White House had Frost on the list of those who would be at the bilateral meeting, but it later emerged that he did not attend.
Labour’s Louise Haigh, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said: “It is worrying on the eve of such an important summit that Boris Johnson’s actions are isolating Britain from our strongest allies. The prime minister personally negotiated the protocol, so has a responsibility to make it work, and protect the precious Good Friday agreement.”