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Boris Johnson takes swipe at Trump as he praises dealing with Biden: ‘It’s a breath of fresh air’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson heaped praise on President Joe Biden in a Tuesday interview ahead of his planned White House meeting later this afternoon.

While doing so he also took a subtle jab at former President Donald Trump, who was widely known for his sometimes erratic foreign policy decisions that would frustrate and confuse allies. 

‘What I will say about Joe Biden, dealing with the new American president, yes it is a breath of fresh air in the sense that there are some things on which we can really, really work together,’ Johnson told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in New York City. 

 He singled out Biden’s stance on climate change, commending the president for doing a ‘great’ job.

‘He’s great on that,’ Johnson said unequivocally. ‘He wants to cut CO2, he wants to net zero by 2050, and he shares with me a basic view that you can do this without penalizing the economy.’

Hours later Biden made good on that reputation by vowing to double the US climate change fund to $11 billion per year at his Tuesday address to the United Nations General Assembly. 

Boris Johnson sat down with NBC in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly

In his speech Biden emphasized the US’s willingness to retake its place in the global community after his predecessor’s more isolationist ideals.

‘The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges – even if we have intense disagreements in other areas because we’ll all suffer the consequences of our failure if we do not come together to address the urgent threats like COVID-19, climate change or enduring threats like nuclear proliferation,’ he told world leaders in New York City. 

Trump, in contrast, withdrew the US from the internationally-backed Paris Climate Accord months into his first year in office.

The ex-president had closely aligned himself with Johnson during his time in office and the two were frequently compared for their bombastic public styles and populist politics.

When Johnson took office in 2019 Trump commented on their similarities, ‘He’s a different kind of guy, but they say I’m a different kind of guy, too.’ 

Biden pledged to double the US's climate funding in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday

Biden pledged to double the US’s climate funding in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday

But on Tuesday Johnson quickly distanced himself from the Republican president.

‘People here perceive you as two peas in a pod,’ Guthrie told him.

Johnson said the UK would seek a good relationship with whoever was in the White House. 

‘It is the job of the prime minister of the UK to have a good relationship with the president of the United States,’ he said. ‘The US-UK relationship – we are doomed, we are fated to get along. That applies to Donald Trump, that applies to Joe Biden.’

The prime minister’s most forceful denunciation of the ex-president came after violent Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6. Johnson had said after the riot that Trump was ‘completely wrong’ to fuel doubts over the 2020 election and ‘unreservedly condemned’ him for his role. 

Johnson also distanced himself from Biden's predecessor in the NBC interview

Johnson also distanced himself from Biden’s predecessor in the NBC interview

Trump and Johnson were often compared for their bombastic public style and populist politics

Trump and Johnson were often compared for their bombastic public style and populist politics

But today he appeared to walk those comments back, seemingly hesitant to answer whether his comments on the riot had created a ‘rift’ between himself and Trump.

Johnson said he was merely a ‘friendly and loving observer’ of the unprecedented strain put on the US political system.  

‘I’m a massive fan of American democracy,’ he said. ‘I think America stands for an ideal, and that ideal is that people should be able to choose their governments peacefully.’

‘I just felt that some of the scenes at the Capitol didn’t wholly correspond with that ideal.’

Guthrie directly asked Johnson if he holds Trump ‘responsible’ for inciting the riot.

‘Look, I have no knowledge of what happened but what I think is – let me put it this way, my admiration for American democracy is undimmed by the whole thing,’ he said. 

Immediately after violent Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, Johnson 'unreservedly condemned' the then-president

Immediately after violent Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, Johnson ‘unreservedly condemned’ the then-president

At another point in the interview, Johnson dismissed the idea of a sweeping vaccine mandate like the one Biden announced two weeks ago, adding that Britons are ‘great lovers of liberty.’ 

Johnson suggested Biden might be better off using ‘sweet reason and persuasion’ to convince people to get a COVID shot. 

Guthrie asked the UK leader whether Biden’s unprecedented order would narrow the gap between Americans’ vaccination rate and that of Brits’.

‘You have 81 percent of your eligible citizens vaccinated right now. We’re at 64 percent. The president has turned to mandates where he has the legal authority to do so. Do you think that’s the right idea?’ Guthrie asks.

Johnson begins by playing up the differences in each country. 

‘It’s different strokes for different folks, ok – it’s up to different countries to decide how they want to approach this, this is a very controversial area.’

But he adds, ‘People feel very strongly about not having the state mandate something in my country.’

‘We’re great lovers of liberty. We’ve had to do it by sweet reason and persuasion. And that’s working.’

Guthrie asked him what happens when persuasion alone doesn’t work.

‘Keep going. More sweet reason,’ Johnson answered. 

On September 9 Biden stood in the White House and announced that he was directing the Labor Department to require private businesses with 100 employees or more to either enact a vaccine mandate or a weekly testing rule.

He also ordered employees of the federal government to get vaccinated – throwing away a previous testing option. 

Biden’s sweeping order would affect more than 100 million US workers. It’s already prompted legal threats from mostly Republican-led states.

It came as the US hit a turning point after its summer COVID surge, though several Southern states still lag below a 50 percent adult vaccination rate. 

President Joe Biden meets with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly on Monday. He is scheduled to meet with Johnson at the White House later on Tuesday

President Joe Biden meets with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly on Monday. He is scheduled to meet with Johnson at the White House later on Tuesday

The president sent a stark warning to those still choosing not to get the shot, ‘Our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.’ 

The United Kingdom rolled back most of its COVID restrictions in July on what Johnson had called ‘Freedom Day.’

Cases in the country have also been falling recently. As of Monday, new COVID infections in the UK were down 17.7 percent from the week before, according to Reuters.

Johnson has credited his vaccination campaign for the UK reemerging as ‘one of the most free societies and one of the most open economies in Europe.’

Last week he announced that booster shots would be available to people 50 and over and first shots for children aged 12 to 15. 

The US COVID infection rate has begun to slow down after a summer surge

The US COVID infection rate has begun to slow down after a summer surge

Meanwhile the US vaccination rate has slowly begun rising after a dip earlier in the summer

Meanwhile the US vaccination rate has slowly begun rising after a dip earlier in the summer

The UK COVID infection rate has also been slowing down, which Johnson credited to his vaccination campaign

The UK COVID infection rate has also been slowing down, which Johnson credited to his vaccination campaign

In the US, hospitals across the South, particularly in states with largely unvaccinated populations, are still buckling under the strain of the most recent surge.  

The vaccination rate, which had fallen significantly in the early summer months, began rising steadily in recent weeks.

Fully inoculated UK travelers will soon be able to enter the US from November, a sign of global confidence in the vaccines.

COVID-19 will also be a central topic at the United Nations General Assembly. 

Biden will deliver remarks before the UNGA this morning before going back to Washington in the afternoon. 

There he and Johnson will meet for a bilateral meeting. It comes after they signed a new defense pact with Australia aimed at containing China’s growing influence in the Pacific. 

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