United Kingdom

Awkward moment Boris Johnson squirms as he is asked if Joe Biden is 'woke'

A ruffled Boris Johnson squirmed when asked about whether Joe Biden is 'woke' and insisted there is 'nothing wrong' with being right-on as he prepares to speak to the new US President on Zoom as early as today.

The Prime Minister was visibly uncomfortable and dodged the question about America's left-wing successor to Donald Trump hours after his inauguration in Washington yesterday.  

Sky News reporter Sam Coates asked whether he considered Mr Biden to be 'woke' – a US term originally used to describe those concerned about social and racial injustice but now also increasingly aligned with political correctness.

The flustered PM replied there was 'nothing wrong with being woke' – but said he would always stand up to those wanting to tear down statues of historical figures like Churchill.

He said: 'What I know is that he's a firm believer in the transatlantic alliance and that's a great thing.

'There's nothing wrong with being woke but what I can tell you is that I think it's very, very important for everybody to ... I certainly put myself in the category of people who believe that it's important to stick up for your history, your traditions and your values, the things you believe in.'

Mr Biden, who has previously described the PM as a 'clone' of Donald Trump, is expected to speak to Mr Johnson in the coming hours.

Boris Johnson looked uncomfortable when asked about whether Joe Biden was 'woke' but insisted that there was 'nothing wrong with it'

US President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President and is expected to speak to world leaders including Boris Johnson from today onwards

Boris Johnson's first meeting with Joe Biden could take place in a Zoom video call. Pictured: The PM watching yesterday's inauguration on television

Gavin Williamson says parents will get TWO WEEKS' notice on whether schools will reopen after February half-term

Gavin Williamson today vowed parents will get two weeks' notice of schools reopening as he insisted children will get priority in easing lockdown. 

The Education Secretary said he wanted to get classrooms fully up and running in England at 'the earliest possible opportunity'.

He said he intended to give families and teachers a 'clear two-week notice period', saying they would be the 'first' thing to be released from the draconian coronavirus curbs. 

And the under-fire Cabinet minister also played down fears over the risk within schools, stressing that they were 'safe'. 

The comments, in a round of interviews, come amid fears of disrupted educations and millions of parents struggling to cope with home schooling since most children were barred from class during the third national lockdown.

He brushed off calls by the opposition to resign following a series of policy U-turns.

'My real focus is making sure that children get back into school at the earliest possible opportunity,' he told Sky News.

'Schools were the last to close and schools will very much be the first to reopen.'

Mr Johnson's TV wobble came after Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Lisa Nandy said the election of Mr Biden was a lesson for her party that it was possible for a 'woke' politician to win a major election.

She said the President was a 'woke guy' who had 'stood up for the Black Lives Matter protesters'.

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Johnson stressed the common ground between the Biden administration and his own.

He said the UK was the first country to set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050s, adding: 'We hope that president Biden will join us. We will work with President Biden to secure the transatlantic alliance and Nato.' The issue of Northern Ireland and Brexit has been a source of tensions between the Government and Mr Biden, whose ancestors were Irish Catholics. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis plans to fly out to the US to meet the Biden team for a post-inauguration visit, sources said.

Government officials are also exploring options for better engagement on Northern Ireland in Washington DC. They have had talks about seconding an official from the Northern Ireland Office to the UK embassy in Washington.

Mr Johnson's first meeting with Joe Biden could take place in a Zoom video call.

The PM has never met the President and may not see him in person until the summer because of the global pandemic.

The UK was represented at yesterday's inauguration by Dame Karen Pierce, Britain's US ambassador.

She said the UK was waiting to hear whether the new administration wanted a face-to-face meeting or a virtual one ahead of the G7 summit in June, when world leaders will gather in Cornwall.

The ambassador told Radio 4's Today programme: 'We know they want to increase the protections [from Covid-19] so we [will] wait to hear from them in the coming days as to whether that will encompass face-to-face meetings. If it does, we are very practiced by now in having Zoom meetings, virtual meetings, so I'm sure those will take place between the Prime Minister and President Biden. But we wait to hear.'

Joe and Jill Biden are seen huddling together on the Truman Balcony as the Celebrating America show came to a stunning close

A flurry of fireworks are seen lighting up the skies above the White House during Wednesday night's event

Biden speaks at Lincoln's feet during Wednesday's festivities, as the inauguration passed off with no security threats 

Travellers arriving in the UK may have to PAY for their own two-week stay in quarantine hotels under Australia-style plans in the pipeline 

Travellers to the UK could be forced to pay for their own two-week stay in quarantine hotels as part an Australian-style border system - which would see arrivals ordered to remain in their rooms for up to a fortnight.

Government officials have reportedly launched talks with hotel groups over the possibility of hosting incoming travellers following their arrival in the UK.

The move is said to be part of the Government's effort to prevent the spread of mutant Covid strains in Britain - with officials fearing the variants could be resistant to the current vaccines.

Under such a scheme, arrivals could be forced to stay in designated hotels for up to 14 days. Food would be provided by the hotel or ordered in via a local takeaway service.

Similar systems have been used in Australia, which recorded just 204 new Covid cases in the last 14 days, and New Zealand, which recorded just 81 cases in the last fortnight.

If the UK does follow in the footsteps of Australia, it could be the traveller who foots the bill for the hotel stay.

The Australian Government initially covered the quarantine hotel costs at the start of the pandemic.

But those entering Australia since July have been forced to pay up to £1,500 for the two-week quarantine stay in some parts of the country.

Choosing her words carefully, she said the diplomatic community was 'very pleased to see American democracy come out on top' and looking forward to a 'period of co-operation'.

The lack of an early invitation to Washington will be seen by some as a snub, particularly if other Western leaders travel to the US to congratulate Mr Biden in the next few weeks.

It will also raise fears about the strength of the so-called special relationship under Mr Biden, who has previously described the PM as a 'clone' of Donald Trump.

Following the inauguration of a new US president, world leaders usually race to be the first to secure an invitation to the White House.

In 2017, the race was won by Theresa May, who immediately returned the favour by granting President Trump the honour of a full state visit.

Despite Mr Biden's long career in frontline politics, and Mr Johnson's stint as foreign secretary under Mrs May, the two men have never met, and had not even spoken until the Democrat leader beat Mr Trump in November.

Ministers had feared a diplomatic snub from Mr Biden's team. In 2019, Mr Biden, a strong opponent of Brexit, described Mr Johnson as a 'physical and emotional clone' of Donald Trump. But he moved swiftly to build bridges last year.

Mr Johnson was the first European leader called by Mr Biden following his victory over Mr Trump in November. Ministers hope the UK's hosting of the G7 summit and Cop26 climate conference this year will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to form a bond over their shared commitment to tackling climate change.

Diplomats at the Foreign Office were rejoicing at the departure of Donald Trump, who has caused shockwaves in the department on countless occasions. One diplomat said: 'Many will not be shedding a tear.'

The feeling was shared on both sides of the Atlantic, with a US source saying: 'The sigh of relief is not necessarily about policy but more the character of the man leaving the White House.'

Defending his close relationship with Mr Trump, Mr Johnson said: 'I think it is very important the Prime Minister of the UK has the best possible relationship with the President of the United States. That is part of the job description.'

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