PLYMOUTH, England—President Biden and British Prime Minister
will meet in person for the first time Thursday, in a test of U.S.-U.K. relations amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and growing tensions over Northern Ireland.
The two leaders are expected to announce a wide-ranging “Atlantic Charter” aimed at solidifying trans-Atlantic relations. The charter, a riff on the joint statement made by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President
Franklin D. Roosevelt
in 1941 when they set out their post-World War II vision, will focus on pandemic recovery, climate change, trade and security. Before their formal meeting, Messrs. Johnson and Biden will view the 1941 Atlantic Charter, which will be on display in the county of Cornwall.
The countries have also set up a task force aimed at reopening U.K.-U.S. travel, though the exact timeline for doing so hasn’t been established.
Northern Ireland is likely to be at the top of this week’s agenda, amid a dispute between the U.K. and the European Union over a complex arrangement to manage trade and preserve peace there after Brexit.
At issue is a post-Brexit agreement aimed at avoiding a hard border between Ireland, which is in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is in the U.K. Instead, the U.K. and the EU have agreed to border checks on goods heading from Britain to Northern Ireland, effectively placing a border of sorts within the U.K. The EU and the U.K. are embroiled in a standoff over how these rules are implemented, as the British government balks over customs checks stymieing trade within the U.K.
The EU says the terms of the Brexit deal must be respected to preserve peace on the island of Ireland.
Mr. Biden, who often talks about his Irish heritage, is concerned that disagreement between the U.K. and EU could threaten a 1998 peace accord known as the Good Friday Agreement, his advisers said.
“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland,” Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, said this week. “That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States.”
Biden administration officials said the U.S. doesn’t want to get directly involved in the negotiations between the U.K. and the EU. Still, they expect Mr. Biden to raise his concerns with Mr. Johnson, though one U.S. official said he did not expect the conversation to be confrontational.
A senior Biden administration official said the U.S. has previously raised the same concerns privately with British officials.
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Other topics that Mr. Biden plans to discuss with Mr. Johnson include the economy, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Russia and counterterrorism, officials said.
Later Thursday, Mr. Biden will speak about global efforts to combat the coronavirus and will announce plans to donate 500 million vaccine doses produced by
The meeting with Mr. Johnson comes at the start of Mr. Biden’s eight-day trip to Europe, his first foreign travel since becoming president. Mr. Biden will participate in the G-7 meeting of leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. He will then travel to Brussels for a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and he will meet with Russian President
During the trip, Mr. Biden is planning to emphasize his relationships with powerful global democracies in a bid to counter autocracies like Russia and China, according to his advisers.
“I believe we’re at an inflection point in world history—the moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies won’t just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize the enormous opportunities of a new age,” Mr. Biden told U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall on Wednesday after arriving in the U.K.
While Mr. Biden, who traveled the world as vice president and as a senator, has longstanding relationships with many world leaders, he has had few interactions with Mr. Johnson. The two leaders have spoken by phone, but Thursday will be their first face-to-face meeting.
Mr. Johnson developed close ties to then-President
who was a vocal backer of Brexit.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Biden called Mr. Johnson a “physical and emotional clone” of Mr. Trump, comments that were interpreted by observers as a criticism of the U.K. leader. Mr. Biden also opposed Brexit, which Mr. Johnson championed.
The U.K. government has since sought to align itself with the Biden administration on nearly all major foreign policy topics from climate to China. Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Biden have adopted the slogan “Build Back Better.” The U.K. is deploying its new aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific region as a show of support for NATO, and a recent U.K. foreign policy review concluded that the country viewed the U.S. as a crucial partner.
G-7 delegations are arriving in the U.K. as it is grappling with a new Covid-19 variant that has resulted in an increase in cases. The highly transmissible variant, which first emerged in India and is known as the Delta variant, has spread to dozens of countries and is now the dominant variant in the U.K.
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