Sunday, July 21, 2024

Joe Biden hints UK should move closer to EU in Starmer meeting

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Joe Biden has appeared to back Keir Starmer’s ambition for the UK having a closer relationship with the European Union as the leaders held their first bilateral talks at the White House.

The US president called the US and UK the “best of allies” as he met the new prime minister in the Oval Office, describing Britain as the “knot” that tied the transatlantic relationship together.

He suggested that the closer the UK was with Europe, the tighter the knot would be. “I kind of see you guys as the knot tying the transatlantic alliance together, the closer you are with Europe,” he told Starmer.

Biden has long had a close interest in Brexit, repeatedly warning that peace in Northern Ireland must not be jeopardised as a result of complications caused by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Starmer has used the Nato summit in Washington to underline the UK’s commitment to the alliance, as well as to Ukraine, confirming that he will stick with plans to spend at least £3bn every year on military support to Kyiv for “as long as is it takes” in its conflict with Russia.

But he is also using the summit to build relationships with European leaders as he tries to seal an EU-UK security pact, and has been joined on the trip by Nick Thomas-Symonds, his minister for European relations.

At their bilateral meeting, Starmer congratulated Biden on hosting the 75th anniversary of the summit, hailing “a bigger Nato, a stronger Nato and a Nato with the resolve that we need”.

He added: “The special relationship is so important. It’s forged in difficult circumstances, endured for so long, and stronger now than ever.

“I’m very pleased to be able to come so early in government to recommit to Nato, to recommit to the special relationship and to discuss these affairs with you.”

His first meeting with the US president would normally be a highlight but, with questions raging about Biden’s health and age and the American election just four months away, called for careful choreography.

At the start of their talks Biden was asked by reporters about George Clooney’s article in the New York Times stating that Biden should stand down as the Democrat presidential candidate, but the president just shrugged.

Biden was also asked about the England football team’s victory earlier in the day. “Good news indeed. It’s all because of the prime minister,” he said.

Starmer was asked by reporters if “football is coming home”. “It looks like it,” he replied.

A visibly delighted prime minister told the president: “I began to watch the game with the Netherlands prime minister, but we left at 1-1.”

Biden threw his head back and laughed, revealing a glistening set of teeth. “And you guys are still talking to one another?” he joked.

The prime minister, a passionate football fan, had earlier given the president an Arsenal shirt with the name “Biden” and the number 46 on the back – a reference to his status as the 46th US president.

“It’s [Starmer’s] team and [he] thought it would make a personal gift,” a senior No 10 official said. Starmer has previously given Emmanuel Macron, the French president, an Arsenal top as a gift.

He also gave Biden a framed copy of the original Atlantic charter that led to the formation of Nato, with then Labour prime minister Clement Attlee’s amendments.

After the talks, the Bidens were hosting Starmer, who has been accompanied by his wife, Victoria, to Washington, and other Nato leaders and their partners at a glitzy White House dinner.

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