Joe Biden tells Keir Starmer UK is ‘knot tying transatlantic alliance together’

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Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to forge deeper UK relations with the EU has won an oblique endorsement from US President Joe Biden, who told him Britain was “the knot tying the transatlantic alliance together” when it was closer with Europe.

In remarks in front of reporters at the top of their meeting on Wednesday, Biden called the US and UK the “best of allies”, before appearing to back Starmer’s plans for a wide and deep defence and security pact between the UK and Europe.

“I kind of see you guys as the knot tying the transatlantic alliance together, the closer you are with Europe. We know where you are, you know where we are,” Biden said. Starmer replied: “Well, I think that’s absolutely right.”

The newly elected UK prime minister has emphasised pursuing sideline talks with his European counterparts at the Nato summit in Washington, where he made his debut on the world stage after entering Downing Street last week.

On his way to the alliance’s gathering, Starmer did not disguise his eagerness to “advance” a security pact with Brussels, labelling such an agreement as “really important to us” and insisting there was “scope for a significant improving of our defence and security relationship with the EU”.

Starmer told the Financial Times that he and UK ministers accompanying him — foreign secretary David Lammy, defence secretary John Healey and European relations minister Nick Thomas-Symonds — would exploit the opportunity for talks with European counterparts at Nato that would otherwise have taken “months and months and months” to organise.

The prime minister also signalled such conversations would get the ball rolling ahead of a meeting of the European Political Community, a grouping of 47 nations in the wider European neighbourhood, next week, which he is convening at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

On his first day of whirlwind diplomacy on Wednesday, Starmer had breakfast with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and had “brush by” encounters with French President Emmanuel Macron, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.

Scholz had welcomed Starmer’s “commitment to resetting the UK’s European partnerships, noting how important our friendships with like-minded countries will be in a challenging international environment”, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

The prime minister also visited the US Capitol where he met the most senior Democrat and Republican figures in the Senate, as well as the leaders of Sweden and Finland, before visiting the White House for a formal bilateral meeting with Biden, whom he met for the first time at the Nato leaders welcoming ceremony that morning.

In the private portion of their talks, Starmer and Biden discussed the Ukraine war and the situation in Israel and Gaza, acknowledging their “shared ambition for an immediate ceasefire to get hostages out, get humanitarian aid in and make progress towards a two-state solution”, No 10 said.

One diplomat said Starmer seemed relaxed and “a natural” in a forum of world leaders. Biden joked that England’s victory in the Euros football tournament semi-finals earlier in the day was “all because of the prime minister”.

Starmer, a passionate football fan and Arsenal season ticket holder, gifted Biden a football shirt from his Premier League team with the number 46, a reference to his status as the 46th US president. The prime minister even broke away briefly from the summit to watch a portion of the England-Netherlands game with his Dutch counterpart.

Ahead of the meeting with Biden, who is 81 and facing pressure about his mental acuity, Starmer was quizzed on his views about a mandatory retirement age for politicians.

Asked about Labour’s manifesto vow to force peers to retire from the House of Lords at the age of 80, he insisted the plan was driven by a desire to reduce the size of the “massive” upper chamber, which is the second largest in the world, and “doesn’t reflect on how other elected representatives are chosen in other countries”.

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