The meeting came at the start of Biden's first foreign tour as president that includes NATO, the EU and talks with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were all smiles during their first meeting, highlighting their nations' famed “special relationship” but doing so against a backdrop of differences both political and personal.
Biden hopes to use his first overseas trip as president to reassure European allies that the United States had shed the transactional tendencies of Donald Trump’s term and is a reliable partner again. He and Johnson immediately struck a tone of conviviality as the news media watched.
“I told the prime minister we have something in common. We both married way above our station,” Biden joked after a highly choreographed walk with their spouses.
Johnson laughed and said he was “not going to dissent from that one” but then seemed to hint that he would be looking to only improve relations with his American counterpart.
“I’m not going to disagree with you on that,” said Johnson, “or indeed on anything else.”
But there are areas of friction. The president staunchly opposed Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union that Johnson championed, and has expressed great concern over the future of Northern Ireland. Biden once called Johnson a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.
Johnson claims common ground on Northern Ireland
Johnson played down differences with Washington over the impact of Brexit on the peace in Northern Ireland, saying that the United States, United Kingdom and European Union had "complete harmony" on finding solutions to uphold the 1998 peace deal.
"There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement," Johnson said.
"And I think what’s interesting is Northern Ireland is a fantastic place and it’s got amazing potential. It is a great, great part of the UK."
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, Johnson said: "No he didn't.
"America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do," Johnson said. "And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground," Johnson said.
Leaders update Atlantic charter
Before their formal discussions, the two men looked back on illustrious wartime predecessors, inspecting documents related to the Atlantic Charter. The declaration signed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D Roosevelt in August 1941 set out common goals for the post-World War II world, including freer trade, disarmament and the right to self-determination of all people.
Reaffirming their nations’ longstanding ties, the two men authorised an updated version of the charter, one that looks to the challenge posed by countries like China and Russia with its promises to promote free trade, human rights and a rules-based international order, and to counter “those who seek to undermine our alliances and institutions.”
The new charter also took aim at “interference through disinformation” in elections and murky economic practices, charges that the West has levelled at Beijing and Moscow. The leaders also promised to build stronger global defenses against health threats on the eve of a summit where discussion of the coronavirus pandemic is expected to take center stage.
Johnson noted that the original charter laid the foundation for the United Nations and NATO.
The leaders also announced a new US-UK task force to work on resuming travel between the two nations, according to a White House official. Most travel has been banned between the two nations since March 2020.