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Friday, May 14, 2021

Boris Johnson embraces the Biden era

LONDON — Boris Johnson wants to make the transatlantic alliance great again.

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At home, the U.K. prime minister has a reputation as a political chameleon, and he pulled off a similar trick on the international stage on Friday. Once described by Joe Biden as a Trump “clone,” Johnson gave a Munich Security Conference speech that positioned himself as the optimistic champion of the transatlantic alliance Donald Trump so often scorned.

In a speech clearly targeted at a Biden administration keen to rebuild ties with European allies, he sought to ease post-Brexit anxieties, insisting “our commitment to European security is unconditional and immoveable” and highlighted how the U.K.’s recent increase in defense spending would make the U.K. the second-biggest NATO contributor after the United States.

Confirming that a long-awaited “integrated review” of U.K. international policy would be published next month, he said that the document would have as its “starting point” the idea that “the success of global Britain depends on the security of our homeland and the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.”

In another signal to Washington, Johnson highlighted areas where the U.K. has stood up to Beijing, citing its offer of a route to British citizenship for three million Hong Kongers in response to China’s imposition of national security law on the territory, as well as new British measures to remove goods produced via forced labor in Xinjiang from supply chains.

The U.K. prime minister, who as foreign secretary during the Trump era told U.S. diplomats of his belief that the president was indeed “making America great again,” struck a very different tone in one of his first major foreign policy speeches of the Biden era.

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“I believe that Europe increasingly recognizes the necessity of joining our American friends to rediscover that far-sighted leadership and the spirit of adventure and transatlantic unity that made our two continents great in the first place,” Johnson said.

Earlier in the day, he hosted a video call of G7 leaders in which he committed U.K. support for efforts to deliver vaccines to developing countries and promoted the idea of a future “treaty on pandemic preparedness.”

Speaking later at the security conference, which also heard from Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, Johnson deployed another of his political trademarks: insatiable optimism. He called on leaders to “dispel the air of pessimism” around the transatlantic alliance.

“Let me respectfully suggest that the gloom has been overdone and we are turning a corner,” Johnson said. “And the countries we call the ‘West’ are drawing together and combining their formidable strengths and expertise once again, immensely to everybody’s benefit.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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