Boris Johnson met Donald Trump for the first time since he became Prime Minister this morning as he tried to lay the groundwork for a swift post-Brexit trade deal but warned the NHS will be ‘completely off limits’.
The breakfast sit down in Biarritz represented a major moment in US and UK relations with the two men having built up a strong rapport with almost weekly phone calls since Mr Johnson took office last month.
Before the meeting took place Mr Johnson appeared to try flattery to further win over his ally as he suggested the US President is more popular in Britain than people think.
But in a sign that the new special relationship is likely to face bumps in the road, Mr Johnson played hard ball with Mr Trump on the scope of a future trans-Atlantic trade agreement.
The meeting between the PM and Mr Trump comes just hours before Mr Johnson will sit down with Donald Tusk in what is likely to be a tense showdown.
The PM is expected to tell the president of the European Council that Britain will only hand over £9 billion of the £39 billion Brexit divorce bill if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.
Brussels has long been adamant that the UK must pay the whole bill even if it leaves without a deal, with Mr Johnson’s pledge likely to throw a grenade into talks.
The two men clashed yesterday over who will be to blame for a No Deal Brexit, setting the scene for a fiery encounter in the French coastal town later today.
Mr Johnson’s meetings with Mr Trump and Mr Tusk came amid reports that he will slash fuel duty at a potential No Deal budget in preparation for a snap general election.
The likelihood of Mr Johnson going to the country early, potentially in October, appeared to increase today as a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put the Tories 12 points ahead of Labour on 33 per cent in Westminster voting intention.
Boris Johnson met Donald Trump this morning in Biarritz for formal talks – the first time the pair have met since the former became PM
Mr Johnson was hoping to use this morning’s meeting to lay the groundwork for a future US-UK trade deal
Mr Johnson was expected to tell Mr Trump that the NHS would be ‘completely off limits’ in a post-Brexit trade deal
The UK Prime Minister and US President were pictured together, speaking alone, at the summit last night
Mr Johnson tweeted before his meeting with Mr Trump this morning that he wanted to lead an ‘outward-looking, self-confident nation’
Speaking after he arrived in Biarritz yesterday, Mr Tusk warned Mr Johnson not to go down in history as the man who took Britain out of the EU without an agreement.
But Mr Johnson hit back and said it was Mr Tusk who was at risk of being known as ‘Mr No Deal’ unless he gave ground and allowed the terms of Britain’s divorce from the bloc to be renegotiated.
Mr Johnson will today try to persuade Mr Tusk to support a plan put forward by Angela Merkel and reluctantly backed by Emmanuel Macron to give the UK 30 days in which to come forward with alternatives to the Irish backstop.
Mr Tusk yesterday signalled he was open to listening to the UK’s ideas but the war of words that followed may well have diminished hopes of Brexit progress being made.
Mr Johnson’s meeting with Mr Trump came after he said overnight that the US would have to ‘compromise’ in order for a post-Brexit trans-Atlantic trade deal to be done.
The premier risked infuriating Mr Trump as he set out a number of negotiating red lines and said the White House would need to agree to slash bureaucratic red tape to allow British businesses greater access to the US market.
He also reiterated his stance that the NHS will not be up for grabs in the talks.
He said: ‘When it comes to public procurement, the US has some very tough rules indeed, such is the strictness of the US’s non-war-like rules that a British stationery is banned from sending any form of measuring tool such as a ruler or a tape measure to any branch of the US military which is the kind of restriction we do not have in this country.
‘The point I am making is that there are massive opportunities for UK companies to open up, to prise open the American market. We intend to seize those opportunities but they are going to require our American friends to compromise and to open up their approach because currently there are too many restrictions.
‘It goes without saying that there are sectors of the UK economy, not least the NHS, which remain completely off limits as far as any trade deal with America goes.
‘We will not allow the NHS to be on the table at all.’
Left to right: Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council
Boris Johnson with French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France
Mr Johnson also claimed that Mr Trump is likely to be more popular in the UK than people think.
He told reporters: ‘That’s very likely. President Trump has pioneered a quite remarkable way of communicating directly with the electorate.
‘My impression is that is also popular with large numbers of people in our country.’
Mr Johnson and Mr Trump have laid the groundwork for a strong friendship since the former took office in July with almost weekly phone calls, including one on the eve of the summit.
But Mr Johnson was today expected to challenge Mr Trump over the wisdom of his trade war with China.
He said when he stepped off the plane yesterday afternoon that he would tackle Mr Trump on the issue as EU leaders rounded on the US President over his trade policy.
Despite his NHS warning and tough talk on trade, Mr Johnson’s sit down with the US President was likely to be more straight forward than a showdown with Mr Tusk.
Mr Johnson was expected to deliver his Brexit bill threat in person to the president of the European Council today.
The threat to withhold most of the £39 billion in the event of a chaotic split from Brussels came after Number 10’s lawyers concluded that, in such a scenario, the total payment should be slashed to £9 billion – or even as little as £7 billion.
That is because there would not be any of the costs associated with the transition period agreed as part of the original deal.
A No 10 source said: ‘Boris wants to see fair terms for the UK’s exit in return for the billions we are meant to pay.’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, centre, talks to President of the European Council Donald Tusk, left, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron posed together for an impromptu photo opportunity at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, south-west France
Donald Tusk suggested Mr Johnson should do everything he can to prevent going down in history as ‘Mr No Deal’ (pictured: The Prime Minister with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron)
A Government source said: ‘The PM has always said it was a huge mistake for [Philip] Hammond to agree to the divorce bill before any Brexit deal had been finalised.’
The source added: ‘If there is No Deal, Brussels will need to organise a whip round – they’ll need to plug a huge hole from our contribution and they’ll need billions’ to keep Ireland afloat.’
Brussels is of the view that Britain must pay all of the £39 billion bill regardless of the terms of its departure.
Mr Johnson and Mr Tusk were already locked in a row after they yesterday clashed over who would go down in history as ‘Mr No Deal’.
‘He will be the third British Conservative prime minister with whom I will discuss Brexit,’ Mr Tusk said.
‘The EU was always open to co-operation when David Cameron wanted to avoid Brexit, when Theresa May wanted to avoid a No Deal Brexit, and we will also be ready now to hold serious talks with Prime Minister Johnson.
‘One thing I will not co-operate on is No Deal. I still hope that Prime Minster Johnson will not like to go down in history as “Mr No Deal”.
‘We are willing to listen to ideas that are operational, realistic and acceptable to all member states including Ireland, if and when the UK Government is ready to put them on the table.’
Mr Johnson hit back and said: ‘As I’ve made it absolutely clear, I don’t want a No Deal Brexit but I say to our friends in the EU: if they don’t want a No Deal Brexit then we’ve got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk speaks during a press conference on the first day of the G7 summit in Biarritz, August 24
Boris Johnson arrived in Biarritz this afternoon for his first G7 summit as UK Prime Minister
‘If Donald Tusk doesn’t want to go down as “Mr No Deal Brexit” then I hope that point should be born in mind by him too.’
The EU is deeply sceptical that Britian will be able to come up with anything good enough to allow the border insurance policy to be scrapped.
The Irish backstop was inserted in the original Withdrawal Agreement to ensure there is no return to a hard border in the event Brussels and Britain cannot agree terms on a future trading relationship.
It would effectively see existing EU rules on customs kept in place to ensure frictionless trade on the island of Ireland could continue.
But Brexiteers hate it because if implemented it would last indefinitely, restrict the UK’s ability to strike its own trade deal and getting out of it would require the agreement of both sides.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly labelled the protocol ‘anti-democratic’ since he won the keys to Downing Street last month.
Mr Macron set the bar high for replacing the backstop as he said on Thursday that the current protocol was ‘indispensable’.
Mr Johnson flew into a Brexit storm as a furious war of words erupted between the PM and Donald Tusk
Mr Tusk had warned Mr Johnson against going down in history as ‘Mr No Deal’ but Mr Johnson hit back and said it was the European Council president who risked receiving the title
Mr Johnson reiterated yesterday that the UK will not introduce any ‘checks or controls’ at the Irish border and that he believed there are a ‘large range of alternative arrangements’ which could replace the backstop.
He also said he did not want to get into a debate with Mr Tusk about how either of them will be remembered.
He said: ‘I have great relations with our friends and partners in the EU and intend to continue to improve them the whole time without getting into any post Brexit eschatology with the president of the council.
‘I think it’s Parliament’s job now to respect not just the will of the people but to remember what the overwhelming majority of them promised to do over and over and over again and that is to get Brexit done, to respect the will of the people and to come out of the EU on October 31.
‘That is what I am confident our Parliament will do. I am confident that they will understand that their historic function is to respect the will of the people, the democratic mandate, and get it done.’
Mr Johnson began the summit yesterday with a bilateral meeting with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
He dismissed suggestions that the G7 was a ‘wonderful boondoggle here in some posh hotel in Biarritz’.
He said world leaders will be ‘working flat out on issues that will make a material difference to the quality of life of everyone in our countries and around the world’.
He also stressed the importance of the alliance between the UK and Canada as he said the two nations are ‘side by side’ on all major issues.
Mr Macron, the host French president, said he wanted the summit to focus on addressing environmental challenges and climate change with leaders expected to discuss the Amazon rainforest fires.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau smiled and shook hands for the cameras. The meeting comes after sources said Ottawa had ‘gone berserk’ after the UK Home Office decided to revoke the citizenship of Jihadi Jack
Police fire water cannon at protestors in Bayonne, France, August 24 as world leaders and protesters are converging on the southern French resort town of Biarritz for the G7 summit
Pictured: A protester kicks away a teargas canister fired by police in Bayonne, France, on August 24
More than 9,000 anti-G7 protesters joined a mass march across the French-Spanish border as world leaders arrived for a summit in Biarritz
As world leaders met for tense meetings police fired water cannon and tear gas at about 400 anti-capitalist protesters blocking roads in a town near the summit’s venue yesterday.
A few protesters threw rocks at police but the crowd in Bayonne was largely peaceful, with some activists dancing.
Police fired warning shots and then used a water cannon. The incident took place near a bridge barricaded by police as part of extensive security measures around the Group of Seven meeting.
Earlier thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully from the area to the Spanish border to demand more action against climate change and economic inequality.
Mr Trump flew into Biarritz on Air Force One yesterday hours after promising to impose punishing tariffs on French wine imports if Mr Macron doesn’t withdraw a tax on US tech giants.
Mr Tusk said the EU ‘will respond in kind’ and added: ‘The last thing we need is a confrontation with our best ally, the United States.
‘This is not our initiative, this trade and tariff struggle, but we have to be ready and we are ready.’
The G7 has traditionally been a forum for frank yet cordial discussions between world leaders but the dynamic has changed since Mr Trump’s election in 2016.
European leaders are expected to use the summit to mount tough calls for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest despite Brazilian right wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s angry response to what he sees as outside interference.
The summit is attended by the leaders of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US with the EU also sending a representative.