And breath - Biden has changed the narrative - Christine Jardine

Sometimes only our closest friends can tell us the truth – something which currently seems as true in international relations as in personal ones.

Joe Biden (L) and US First Lady Jill Biden arrive for the welcome prior to the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall . (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP).
Joe Biden (L) and US First Lady Jill Biden arrive for the welcome prior to the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall . (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP).

As the G7 gathered for their summit in Cornwall the UK Government was presented at one and the same time with a stinging rebuke, and a reinforcement of a profound, intangible understanding that we may recently have doubted.

Both came from the incumbent of The White House.

What Joe Biden brought with him on his first Presidential visit from Washington was a declaration of intent that felt almost like a long-denied hug from a sorely missed loved one.

As he joined Boris Johnson for a joint news conference on the coast, just a few days after the anniversary of D-day, there were echoes everywhere of the wartime summits between their two famous predecessors.

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While we have long known that the Prime Minister would love to be seen as a new Churchill, it was the parallels between Biden and Franklin Roosevelt which were most striking.

In 1941 the man who many regard as the greatest US President of the 20th Century signed a joint statement with Churchill setting out their aims for the post war world.

What became known as the Atlantic Charter laid the foundations for numerous treaties, and in it, its assertation of a nation’s right to choose its own Government and plea for disarmament is seen as the first key step towards the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.

It was also significant in the US’s emergence as a post war super-power and the embracing of its self-proclaimed title as the leader of the free world.

Eighty years later, Biden referenced that moment as he cast the other leaders in his shadow to declare that the United States will donate half a billion dozes of Pfizer vaccines to 92 low and middle income countries.

“America will be the arsenal of vaccines in our fight against COVID-19, just as America was the arsenal of democracy during World War Two”, he promised.

This was the statement of intent that the world needed.

A commitment from a US President to those who had begun to doubt his country’s engagement with foreign affairs. Leadership.

The UK and others have made similar vaccine commitments but this was America’s moment to step forward and begin to lay the foundations of a post-Covid international order.

At its heart a new, revitalised Atlantic Charter, jointly with the UK, building on common principles to address the challenges of the 21st Century: climate change, the pandemic’s effects and cyber threats.

Until that moment observers had assumed that the Anglo-American interaction at this summit would be dominated by tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The US President’s dislike of the arrangement and its perceived threat to the Good Friday Agreement, which Bill Clinton’s administration played such a key role in brokering, was well publicised before his trip.

But in his every word and action on British soil the 46th President seemed to be saying listen to us, we are your friends.

And not just to the UK.

This eight-day trip to Europe also includes a meeting with NATO allies in Belgium and a summit with Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

It’s underlying theme to repair the damage done to the balance of those relationships by his less than endearing predecessor Trump.

What a difference this weekend has been to the difficult and controversial visit of the 45th President in 2018.

This time there were no derisory blimps of the President, crowds protesting in central London against the visit or concerns about security.

Instead we saw a world leader so comfortable, so welcomed in this country that he exchanged casual pleasantries on camera with a BBC reporter in the pub he just happened to take an evening stroll to with his entourage.

And a First Lady so relaxed she took a walk on the beach with Carrie and Wilfred.

Oh the irony of this being the President whose presence here has been restricted by Covid.

Three years on from a visit that marked a low-point in Anglo-American relations and the beginning of the US withdrawal from the world, Joe Biden has changed the narrative.

If Trump in his behaviour in London seemed to breathe life into the fictional President dismissed by Hugh Grant in Love Actually, roles were reversed this time.

Here was a President with a positive message for the world.

The effect of this new narrative, or perhaps return to an old one, was to prompt the Prime Minister to bubble over with enthusiasm for the next chapter of the special relationship.

His hyperbole extended to wanting a new name for it, perhaps indestructible.

It is certainly enduring.

It is only the individual representatives from either side of ‘the pond’ who change.

And that perhaps is the final lesson, and reassurance, that we on this side can take from the events of the weekend.

Three years ago, every utterance of the then President brought fresh waves of disillusionment bordering on despair.

Everything we understood about our relationship with the US, our desire to protect the planet from climate change and keep the international order stable, seemed thrown into question by a politician who was from a different mould.

But time and patience are democracy’s greatest allies.

They have worked in our favour again by allowing a much more reassuring replacement to be chosen.

Those who fear that one government, one Prime Minister of whom we do not all approve, may lead to the break up of our country should be more confident this week.

Time and democracy has worked for America and given the world a new champion.

They will work for us here too.

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