Today’s US-UK diplomacy didn’t get off to the best start, with the Times breaking the remarkable news about a US demarche — or diplomatic rebuke — to the UK government to complain about its approach to the Northern Ireland protocol. But the day has ended in a better place for the UK government.
The US-UK joint statement contains a section on Northern Ireland that is far more nuanced than the demarche. It talks about the ‘delicate balance’ of the Good Friday Agreement, which is something that the UK has been trying to stress in its discussions with the EU — arguing that unionists' objections to the protocol in its current form risk upsetting that.
Downing Street, though, would not have wanted so much focus on the protocol today. As I say in the magazine this week, it would have preferred the focus to be on the UK and the US’s effort to rally the democratic world to deal with the new autocratic threat posed by Russia and China. But its new Atlantic Charter has been rather overshadowed by the whole protocol issue.
With EU leaders expected to raise the border with Johnson when they meet him, the protocol will continue to hang over the summit.
Yet Biden and Johnson, appear to have got on well in their first in person meeting. They have both been warm about the relationship afterwards. Indeed, it is worth remembering that on Russia and China the US and the UK are far more closely aligned than the US and Germany or the US and France.
One of the questions of this summit is whether it can come up with a credible plan for getting the developing world vaccinated. The US’s decision to donate 500 million doses will help. But it is worth remembering that 500 million doses only covers 3 per cent of the world’s population. Much more will be needed to properly deal with this problem.