13 highs and lows of Boris Johnson’s US trip as three-day diplomatic blitz ends

As Boris Johnson boarded his official flight to the United States on Sunday he will have been acutely aware of the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

The Prime Minister, who was born in New York, faces the British obsession with the ‘special relationship’ which was enshrined by his hero Winston Churchill.

British leaders over the decades have always faced scrutiny over their dealings with US Presidents.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were ideological soulmates with a shared economic focus who formed a close bond in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton heralded a dynamic new dawn in global politics.

The PM gave an address on Wednesday



On the plane over to the US, Mr Johnson was asked by reporters how he gets on with Joe Biden, but was forced to admit he didn’t know the President very well yet.

“You know, it hasn’t been a relationship that’s been very long in gestation,” he told reporters.

“But it’s terrific, I mean genuinely terrific. We see eye-to-eye on all sorts of things.”

The PM struggled to think of a specific example of where the politicians had bonded.

Eventually he said: “He’s a bit of a train nut, as am I. He likes trains which is a good thing.”

The relationship between the two countries and between the two leaders remains a complicated one.

When Boris Johnson came to office he cosied up to ex-President Donald Trump – which he now claims was to keep the transatlantic partnership ticking over.

It was the 76th session UN General Assembly


POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

But now he has switched his attentions to Joe Biden, who just two years ago called him a “physical and emotional clone” of then-president.

The UK-US relationship still faces major challenges – trade, Afghanistan and Brexit among them – but there are some signs of healing.

We look at the highs and lows of Boris Johnson’s three-day diplomatic blitz.


1. A diplomatic win for Boris Johnson to finally make it to the Oval Office

This was Boris Johnson’s first foreign trip since the election – and the trip to the land of his birth was always going to be an important one for the Atlanticist PM.

Downing Street officials had been working feverishly behind the scenes to arrange a visit to the White House – despite the United Nations general assembly being the main reason for the trip.

But with Joe Biden unwilling to meet any leaders in New York it was only confirmed at the last minute that the extra leg to Washington would happen.

It was his first foreign trip since the election


Getty Images)

In the diplomatic stakes, the visit was a big success after the Americans rolled out the red carpet for the PM.

Boris Johnson met with Vice-President Kamala Harris and then had a 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office with the President himself.

Even though the bust of Winston Churchill no longer has pride of place there, British officials claimed the talks were friendly and relaxed and the pair left on first name terms.

Johnson, denied the full joint press conference he had hoped for, narrowly avoided a minor diplomatic incident by asking British journalists for questions after a photo call.

But despite surprising the President, the words and images from the historic meeting will endure for years.

2. Big boost for the UK’s climate hopes from Joe Biden and China

Boris Johnson arrived in the US predicting that he had just a 6 in 10 chance of securing $100bn-a-year from rich countries to help poorer ones tackle climate change.

Despite years of promises they had only committed $80bn so far this year – and missing the target before the COP26 summit in Glasgow could be seen as a failure for the UK.

The PM is aware that taking the lead on global warming is an opportunity to recast his international image and boost his plans for ‘Global Britain’.

He talked up plans to tackle global warming



But Joe Biden helped out by doubling the US contribution to $11.2bn to help developing countries cut emissions.

In a second boost, China announced it would halt the construction of new coal-fired power stations overseas.

Johnson’s eco-focus – telling the UN general assembly it was time for the world to “grow up” on climate change – is a far cry from his past climate sceptic views.

He admitted on Monday that some of his previous articles “weren’t entirely supportive of the current struggle” but claimed his mind had changed with the facts.

But his newly found zeal could yet change minds and deliver results.

3. The US lifted a decades-old ban on imports of British lamb

America announced it would drop its decades-old ban on imports of British lamb in a move that has delighted sheep farmers in the UK.

Boris Johnson welcomed the decision to reverse the “totally unjustified” policy which means Americans can now enjoy British lamb chops.

But in a blow to Scottish exporters, the change does not include haggis which is classified as offal.

The US has banned British lamb imports since 1989, following the first outbreaks of BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease. A similar beef ban was lifted last year.

He boarded RAF Voyager on Sunday



The PM said: “We are going to be able to export British lamb to the US for the first time in decades.

“It will allow kebabs, the kofta, the lamb burgers of the people of the US (to) be supplied at last by Britain, and fantastic juicy cuts of Welsh lamb and everything else.”

Despite Johnson’s claims the US would be lifting the ban Downing Street later admitted that there were still details to be worked through.

4. America announced that all double jabbed foreigners would be allowed to travel to the US

Double-jabbed Brits have got the green light to travel to the US from November.

It marks the end of an 18-month blanket ban imposed by Donald Trump at the height of the Covid pandemic that has kept tourists, business people and separated families out.

Before the Covid pandemic, more than four million Brits flew to the US every year but during travel restrictions only a fraction of those had gone ahead.

Boris Johnson was taken by surprise by the move after he warned reporters not to “hold their breath” it would come any time soon.

Boris Johnson meeting with Martin Griffiths in New York


Getty Images)

But Downing Street was quick to claim responsibility for the change – which applies to all double vaccinated foreigners.

To raised eyebrows, they claimed the scientific evidence needed to allow the change had been provided by a UK travel task-force.

US officials suggested, however, that it was driven by a need to create one set of rules and reflect the success of the vaccines roll-out.

5. New trilateral relationship with the United States and Australia

Ahead of the trip Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Aussie PM Scott Morrison struck a new defence pact after the UK brokered a deal for the US to provide nuclear-powered subs to Australia,

The move was designed as a show of strength aimed at the Chinese in the region but it meant that a valuable contract with the France was dumped.

Despite having bridges to build on a range of issues, the mood of the White House talks between Biden and Johnson was lifted by the three-way deal.

Later, the PM joined Mr Morrison for dinner at the Australian residence where they dined on stuffed zucchini flowers, Wagyu beef and Australian shiraz.

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Johnson told the media on the train back to New York that he hopes to expand the pact to other areas including the economy, security and human rights.

While the new pact may have angered the French – who lost out on the subs contract – it has strengthened the “shared values” relationship with Canberra and Washington.

6. The PM came down heavy on Strictly vaccines sceptics

Boris Johnson weighed in on the Strictly Come Dancing row after it was claimed that three of the popular BBC show’s professional dancers have refused to get the jab.

There are now fears among celebrity partners of a Covid outbreak behind the scenes and are said to be unhappy about being partnered with them.

The BBC has refused to comment on the dancers’ jabs status but has vowed that strict government guidelines remain in place to ensure the safety of the show.

The PM didn’t hold back from encouraging the dancers – and the rest of the population – to get the jab to keep everybody safe.

“That’s a matter for the producers but I strongly believe people should get vaccinated,” he said.

“I don’t want to bully people or to lecture them – well I don’t mind lecturing them, I’ll lecture them. “I think it’s a great thing to do for yourself, for your family, for your community, I think people should get a jab and it’s a wonderful thing to do.”


1. Boris Johnson forced to give up his post-Brexit dream of a US trade deal

The PM, a key architect of Vote Leave, has long coveted a free trade agreement with the United States as a big prize of Brexit.

As recently as 2017, after Donald Trump took office, he predicted Britain would be “first in line” for such a deal.

But his hopes of a trading pact took a turn when Joe Biden, with a big list of domestic priorities he wants to deliver before next year’s mid-term elections, entered the White House.

On the flight to Washington, Johnson admitted the US President had “a lot of fish to fry” other than trade deals.

He was forced to give up his dream of a free trade deal



Johnson then hinted to Sky News he doesn’t expect an agreement before the next general election, due in 2024.

Diplomatic sources then admitted that the Government was looking at other options instead – including joining an existing pact with Mexico, Canada and the States or a wider agreement between Pacific nations.

President Biden put any hopes of a deal any time soon to rest ahead of their talks in the Oval Office.

“We’re going to talk a little bit about trade today and we’re going to have to work that through,” he said.

So the PM remains under pressure to prove that Brexit, the biggest upheaval in British foreign policy in 50 years, was worth it.

2. Joe Biden warned the PM not to put the Northern Ireland peace process at risk

The US President, who has Irish heritage and has long had an interest in Northern Irish affairs, has previously issued stern warnings to the British government over its Brexit plans.

He fears that Boris Johnson’s plans for the border – which he signed up to with his post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union – could create a hard border which would damage the fragile peace.

British officials have also struggled to persuade the Biden administration that the EU divorce deal needs rewriting.

Johnson has raised alarm bells in Washington in recent months by earning the UK will not hesitate to trigger Article 16 – the mechanism that suspends parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, which covers trade with the region.

He was seen shaking hands with Brazilian Health Minister, Marcelo Queiroga – who tested positive for Covid

But sitting alongside the PM in the Oval Office, the President said he felt “very strongly” that any change to the “Irish accords” would undo peace efforts and could result in a hard border.

He added: “I would not at all like to see, nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland.”

3. Britain’s relations with France plummeted to a new low over the Aussie nuclear subs deal

Last week the U.K. brokered a new defence pact which includes the US providing nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, a show of strength aimed at China.

But the deal infuriated the French as it meant a valuable £47bn contract they had signed with Australia to provide diesel subs was dumped.

While a diplomatic Joe Biden attempted to build bridges with Emmanuel Macron in a placatory phone call, Boris Johnson could not resist stirring.

He urged the French President to “donnez-moi in break” and accused him of acting like a jilted lover as the subs spat erupted into a major row.

The PM with President Emmanuel Macron


Getty Images)

But the fall-out is set to get worse after the PM admitted to reporters that Britain, the US and Australia are shutting the doors to their exclusive club.

The three countries will work closely together on security, human rights and economic affairs but France will not be invited to the table.

Britain’s relationship with its closest neighbour is already under strain with disputes over Channel migrant crossings and post-Brexit trade problems.

4. Boris Johnson met with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos but failed to get him to pay more tax

The PM told reporters on his way to the US that he would demand that multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest men, get Amazon to pay more tax in the U.K.

He insisted he would “certainly” tell the Amazon chief that the firm must pay its fair share in the UK, after bumper online sales during the pandemic, and address working standards for employees.

But after the meeting the PM claimed Bezos was not going to pay out as an “act of kindness” and that the tech tycoon had told him it was up to governments to come up with a plan.

He told Channel 5 News: “He’s a capitalist and he made the very important point that this is a job for governments.

“And tax isn’t something that he’s going to pay as an ex gratia act of kindness. It’s up to governments to come up with the right framework.”

Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon


Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The online shopping giant’s latest financial results show it paid £492m in direct taxation in the UK as its sales rose 50% during the Covid pandemic.

But Amazon and other tech firms, which pay tax on profits rather than sales, have come under growing pressure to make a fairer contribution to British coffers.

5. PM was forced to backtrack after saying US could have handled Afghan withdrawal differently

Boris Johnson was forced to use his visit to the White House to smooth over cracks in the ‘special relationship’ after the chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

In a rebuke to the President before the talks, he admitted the US could have taken a different path when it stuck to a firm deadline to get its military out of Kabul.

“America has been there for 20 years and it’s a respectable argument to say that enough is enough,” he told US broadcasters.

“Could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could.”

The PM was understood to be frustrated when Mr Biden took 36 hours to return his phone calls after the fall of Kabul.

The Pentagon then blamed UK requests for more time for the evacuation of thousands of desperate Afghans for a terror attack at the airport in which US troops and innocent civilians died.

But he later backtracked by praising American “leadership” of the evacuation of Kabul airport.

Government insiders admitted the two sides had decided not to rake over past mistakes – and to focus on how to help the Afghan people now forced to live under the Taliban.

6. Boris Johnson seen shaking hands with health minister who later tested positive for coronavirus

Boris Johnson has been pictured shaking hands with Brazil’s health minister – hours before he tested positive for Covid.

Marcelo Queiroga met the UK Prime Minister on Monday in a meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York.

The pair shook hands as part of a procession while Mr Johnson met Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who refuses to get the vaccine.

It’s understood the Prime Minister’s aides are unconcerned about the meeting as Mr Queiroga was wearing a mask, and Mr Johnson is double-jabbed and washes his hands regularly.

Mr Queiroga will remain in New York in quarantine, his government’s communications office said.

“The minister is doing well,” the statement said. It added that the rest of the delegation tested negative for the virus.

Mr Queiroga told CNN Brasil that he had worn a mask the entire time that he was in the UN building.

Asked if Mr Johnson had since taken a Covid test, a No10 spokesman said: I’m obviously not out there and it is early in the morning (in the US).

“But there are strict Covid measures in place at UNGA which the Prime Minister will obviously adhere to.

“As you know, he is double jabbed.”

7. No sign of breakthrough for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss promised to push for the immediate release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during talks with the Iranian regime in New York yesterday.

Ms Truss, who was promoted to her new role in last week’s reshuffle, said she would be “hard headed” in her approach to securing the release of detained British-Iranians.

She has already spoken to Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe who has campaigned tirelessly for her release since she was imprisoned more than five years ago.

On the train to Washington DC, Ms Truss said: “I’ve already spoken to the families of the detainees in Iran.

“It’s completely unacceptable that they’re being held there and I’m going to be very proactive in pushing for their release.”

Speaking about Nazanin for the first time since she was appointed, she added: “I’m pushing for her immediate release”.

The Foreign Secretary met her Iranian counterpart at the United Nations in New York after talks were postponed earlier this week.

She has already held talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the need for Iran to release detained British and American nationals.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary held her first meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to discuss bilateral, nuclear and regional issues. She called for the release and return home of British dual national detainees.“

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