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Johnson and Biden meet at the White House

Johnson celebrates more lamb to the slaughter

The relationship between the US and UK seemed to improve further when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited US President Joe Biden at the White House yesterday.

But any hope of a decent Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries – seen by the UK as a prize for Brexit – remains a far way off.

When asked by the media if Britain would be at the back of the queue when it came to a post-Brexit trade deal, Biden said.  ‘We’d have to work that through’. Not a strong endorsement. And then he added how he feels “very strongly” about the Northern Ireland protocols.

Johnson meets Biden at the White House

That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any movement. British lamb and beef can now be exported to the US market. But that hardly makes up for an all-encompassing FTA that could put the UK in a better position than it was while a part of the EU. But not having a deal doesn’t make it any worse, as the EU doesn’t have a trade deal with the US either – even though the US is the EU’s largest trade and investment partner.

So that shows the kind of importance that this White House puts on trade deals generally – not just with the UK.

Biden makes a point

“What we’re wanting to do is make solid incremental steps in trade,” Johnson told the media outside the White House “The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now but I’ve got absolutely every confidence that a great deal is there to be done. And there are plenty of people in that building behind me who certainly want a deal.”


Johnson tried to talk up the progress made on opening up the US market to British lamb – but few British people are likely to be over-impressed except for those directly involved in production. Lambs probably won’t be too happy about the development.

“I can tell you today that what we’re going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades-old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb.

“So we’re going to be able to export British lamb to the United States for the first time in decades for the kebabs, the koftas, the lamb burgers. The people of the United States will be supplied, at last, with fantastic juicy cuts of Welsh lamb and everything else. It’s about time too!” said an apparently enthusiastic Johnson.

The ban on British lamb goes back to the 1990s after the mad cow disease outbreak.

Unfortunately for British lamb exporters, Americans are not big lovers of lamb – and the lamb they do eat comes largely from Australia and New Zealand. Its possible that Welsh lamb may carry a cachet that could see it sell at a premium – but that is to be established.

Johnson makes a point

But the deal on lamb wasn’t big enough to warrant a tweet from the Prime Minister, though he did speak to wider issues.

“The UK and US are staunch allies and the closest of partners. We will stand side-by-side to protect our people and defend our values around the world,” Johnson tweeted.

In a later tweet, Johnson built up the strength of UK-US relations while retweeting an earlier message from Biden.

“The UK-US partnership is vital as we face the challenges of the future. @POTUS and I will continue to work together to #BuildBackBetter from the pandemic, tackle climate change and strengthen our security partnership,” Johnson tweeted – following up with Biden’s tweet.

“It was an honor to welcome United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the White House this afternoon. The bond between our two nations is ironclad and we’re committed to working together on everything from climate change to COVID-19 in the years ahead,” tweeted Biden.

Tariffs were also lifted on British beef and  Scotch whisky – so that’s also a plus. But still not massive – and probably not great news for the emergence of whisky producers in England. Nor has the UK tariff on US whiskey been lifted, which American exporters aren’t too happy about.

The US put a tariff of 25 percent on a number of European exports including Scotch whisky over a dispute between Boeing and Airbus. Scotch whisky lost some £500 million as a result.

The situation regarding an FTA looks so dire, that some analysts are now talking up the possibility of the UK joining USMCA the free trade agreement between the US and its neighbours of Canada and Mexico which replaced the former Nafta.

Johnson also spoke up a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris – Biden’s heir apparent.

“A pleasure to meet @VP Kamala Harris. The partnership between our two countries is absolutely vital as we #BuildBackBetter from the pandemic,” Johnosn tweeted. He included a photo of the two together at the White House.

“Yesterday, I had a productive meeting with @BorisJohnson. The U.S. and the UK share history, language, values, and vision for a more democratic world. As strong allies and close friends, we’re working to tackle challenges like climate change, global health preparedness, and more,” tweeted US Vice President Kamala Harris after her meeting with Johnson.


It had been a long day for President Biden, who had earlier travelled to the UN General Assembly to give a speech largely about US policy on climate change and tackling the pandemic.

It appears that his ‘handlers’ are very worried about protecting the President from appearing to be less than competent, given his propensity to making ‘gaffes’ in front of the media. Recently he forgot the name of Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Ministers, when launching the Aukus deal – referring to him as “that fella down under” and during his speech at the UN yesterday, he slipped up and refereed to multilateral institution as the US.

So handlers were determined to prevent any more slipups and the President did not seem as energetic as he had on the UN stage.

The press were hurried out by Biden’s handlers

Johnson though was happy to take a couple questions from the press. “Good luck” said Biden. As Johnson was answering one of the reporters – the handlers stepped in and started yelling at the reporters to get them to leave – making it impossible for anyone to hear what Biden was saying in response to a question.

The American reporters were so appalled by the development that they made an official complaint to the White House.

But the end result is that it is now clear that Biden’s ‘handlers’ believe he is incompetent when addressing the media, and must be protected at all costs – even if it means shouting over the comments of another world leader.

 This treatment of the media and of the President by his own staff is likely to continue and perhaps even escalate.

The contrast with former President Donald Trump couldn’t be starker. Trump was famous, infamous even, for riffing with journalists on a wide range of subjects for extended periods of time – sometimes shutting down journalists, sometimes saying things that were newsworthy if only for their outrageous nature. His handlers may have attempted to control Trump in his relations with the media – not to mention his outpourings on Twitter – but had no visible success.

Trump speaking to press Photo: AP

“You’ll never believe what the President has said this time” said a CNN newscaster back in the golden days of the Trump presidency. “This is going to make you so mad”.

Such words can never be uttered under this President, as he is barely given a chance to say anything that wasn’t written for him.

To now have a President who is so effectively stage-managed by his handlers is a shock to the media system, who can no longer report on the outrageous pronouncements of the President and must find some other boring story to cover – or perhaps resurrect some Trump story from the past – in an effort to keep up viewership and readership.

But the days of the media allowing this state of affairs to continue are surely limited, and soon the story may become how the President continues to be protected from the press – with questions raised about why that may be the case.



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