Days after the US election, an old clip of Joe Biden went viral in Britain as people pondered what the end of the Trump era would mean for relations between Britain and America. “Mr Biden, a quick word for the BBC,” one could hear a soft-spoken reporter say. “The BBC?” Biden asked, before responding with a cheeky smile: “I am Irish.”
To most viewers in the UK, it was seen as what it was – Biden’s funny way of brushing a reporter he could not be bothered to talk to. But to the pro-Brexit crowd, many of whom had sworn allegiance to Donald Trump, it was seen as a serious national insult and the words of a future president who did not intend to put Britain above other allies.
On Thursday, the first day of the G7 summit in England, where Biden takes his first foreign trip as president, their worst fears were realized. The times from London reported that Biden ordered his top diplomats to dress up British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “inflame”
According to the report, Yael Lempert, America’s most important diplomat in England, issued a formal diplomatic reprimand to one of Johnson’s ministers, expressing Biden’s personal “great concern” over the prime minister’s trade threats. Notes from the meeting said that Lempert “slowly and seriously read her instructions [from Biden] high.”
The disagreement is a technical one, but one that has dominated the press coverage of the run-up to the G7 summit because of its impact on a key component of the artery-pummeling British breakfast: sausages.
The UK and the EU find it impossible to agree on how to implement trade rules for goods crossing from the British mainland to Northern Ireland. If the stalemate continues into next month, it may become illegal for English sausages to enter Northern Ireland, where EU trade rules continue to apply to prevent the creation of a hard Irish border.
EU food safety rules do not allow chilled meat products to enter the market from non-members such as the UK, but Johnson has threatened to ignore these rules and continue to import English meat tubes. The EU claims it could undermine the carefully balanced Brexit agreements designed to protect peace in Northern Ireland – and it appears Biden has sided with Ireland and the EU against Johnson and Britain.
The city’s apparent decision to wade into what has become known as The Sausage War has outraged some Brexit-loving Britons.
An unnamed lawmaker from Johnson’s Conservative party revived Trumpist attacks on Biden on Thursday, he said Politico: “America needs to remember who their allies are … Unfortunately [Biden is] so senile that he probably can not remember what we are telling him anyway. Unless an assistant listens, I’m not sure he’s going to remember for very long. ”
Nigel Farage, the man who was formerly at the helm of the Brexit movement but is now largely reduced to hawking competitive cameo videos to celebrate the birthdays of middle-aged white British men, wrote on Twitter: “We now have an anti- British US President in the White House. I hope all those who condemned Trump see their stupidity. ”
Johnson was one of the few world leaders to boast of a good relationship with Trump, who admired the Prime Minister’s success in leading the 2016 Brexit campaign.
The White House sought to reassure the row Thursday hours ahead of an expected bilateral meeting between Johnson and Biden.
An unnamed senior Biden administration official reportedly said that the private discussion on Northern Ireland reported by Times “Was not instructed by the President,” and denied that it was an “elevated” speech. “As with any ally, we have diplomatic talks on areas of concern on many levels,” the anonymous official told Politico.
There was also a less marked blip to the Johnson / Biden meeting on Thursday, when plans to host the talks at the iconic St. Michael’s Mount Island was predictably abandoned due to rubbish.
The leaders have made alternative arrangements indoors.