Controversy Swirling Around Biden 'Rebuke', as He Meets With Boris Johnson

AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

Joe Biden is in England prior to the G-7 summit to have meetings with Boris Johnson and other UK officials.

The UK is our strongest ally, with whom we have a “special relationship.”

Reports are blowing up in England that Biden might just be harming that special relationship with a unique rebuke, the kind usually reserved for enemies, not for allies; a type of rebuke Biden hasn’t even issued to China.

The Times of London reported the U.S. had issued a demarche.

Biden ordered US officials to issue Boris Johnson with an extraordinary diplomatic rebuke for imperilling the Northern Ireland peace process over Brexit, The Times can reveal.

Yael Lempert, America’s most senior diplomat in Britain, told Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, at a meeting that the government was “inflaming” tensions in Ireland and Europe with its opposition to checks at ports in the province.

In a move described as “unprecedented” by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Lempert said she had been told to take the step of issuing London with a demarche, a formal diplomatic reprimand seldom exchanged between allies.

The memo was reported before the first meeting between Biden and Johnson today, and follows the failure yesterday of talks between Frost and Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s vice-president.

Lempert allegedly said that Biden was pressuring the UK to accept the EU rules on agricultural standards and if they did so, the issue wouldn’t interfere with the discussions between the U.S. and the UK on trade.

The memo said that the US “strongly urged” Britain to come to a “negotiated settlement”, even if that meant “unpopular compromises”. It added: “Lempert said the US was increasingly concerned about the stalemate on implementing the protocol. This was undermining the trust of our two main allies. The US strongly urged the UK to achieve a negotiated settlement.”

It also said: “Lempert implied that the UK had been inflaming the rhetoric, by asking if we would keep it ‘cool’.”

Now, of course it would be a bad move for the U.S. to step in the middle of the issues between the UK and the EU but Biden has been very anti-Brexit in the past.

But then the word came that Biden hadn’t been behind it.

A senior Biden official told CNN, “This is wrong. First, this discussion wasn’t directed by the President. It was not heightened. As with any ally, we have diplomatic conversations about areas where we have concern at many levels,” a senior Biden administration official told CNN.

Some media reported it as something of a non-denial denial, perhaps trying to downplay it prior to the bilateral meetings on Northern Ireland and other issues.

Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg claimed there was no demarche, despite the apparent memo and The Times report.

So whatever Biden was trying to do here, it just became typical Biden – a confusing, incoherent mess and hardly the lead-in you would want for bilateral talks. This was all that British social media was talking about over the past day – that Biden was trying to dictate to the UK and it wasn’t making anyone happy on either side of the aisle.

But just remember, no mean tweets.