Canadian PM Justin Trudeau will be first foreign leader to call Biden

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau will be first foreign leader to get a phone call from Joe Biden, dashing British hopes that ‘special relationship would put them first

  • Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said his first call would be to Trudeau on Friday
  • Psaki said his other early calls would likely be with American ‘partners and allies’ 
  • Any signs of presidential favouritism are typically closely watched in the UK  

Who the presidents called first 

Joe Biden (Jan 22, 2021): Canadian PM Justin Trudeau

Donald Trump (Jan 21, 2017): Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto 

Barack Obama (Jan 23, 2009): Canadian PM Stephen Harper, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, British PM Gordon Brown

George W. Bush (Jan 23, 2001): Mexican president Vicente Fox, British PM Tony Blair

Bill Clinton (Jan 23, 1993): Russian president Boris Yeltsin, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin  

President Biden’s first call to a foreign leader will be to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the White House announced last night, meaning Britain’s Boris Johnson misses out on a sought-after symbol of the ‘special relationship’. 

New White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would speak to Trudeau on Friday and likely discuss the Keystone XL pipeline which the new US president has already moved to scrap. 

Psaki said Biden’s other early calls would likely be with ‘partners and allies’ as he seeks to ‘rebuild those relationships’ after four abrasive years under Donald Trump. 

But there was no word on how soon he would call the UK, where any signs of presidential favouritism are closely watched and where Johnson has made a point of welcoming Biden into office. 

Long seen as a more natural ally of Trump, Johnson was quick to congratulate Biden after his election victory last November and was believed to be the first European leader to speak to the president-elect in the following days.  

Trump received then-PM Theresa May as his first official visitor after taking office in 2017, but his first known telephone contacts were with Trudeau and then-Mexican leader Enrique Pena Nieto. 

The previous two presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, spoke to British PMs Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in their first batches of foreign calls.  

Joe Biden will speak to Justin Trudeau in his first call to a foreign leader as US president, having met him before when he was Barack Obama’s vice president (seen here in 2016) 

The opening call to Trudeau means that Britain’s PM Boris Johnson (pictured) misses out on a sought-after symbol of the ‘special relationship’ 

Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, said Biden’s early calls would be to allies and partners as the new president tries to repair the damage done by Trump 

May’s January 2017 visit to Washington became infamous for the bizarre pictures of the PM and president holding hands, but the invitation delighted May who hailed it as an ‘indication of the strength and importance of the special relationship’. 

Their relations soon became strained, however, with May berating Trump for retweeting the far-right group Britain First while the president poured scorn on the PM’s handling of Brexit. 

Johnson, who became PM in July 2019 and is often compared to Trump, had his first call with the US president two days after taking office. 

The pair agreed that ‘Brexit offers an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen the economic partnership between the UK and US’, Downing Street said at the time.

Trump was seen by some as a more natural ally than Biden, who had once described the Conservative leader as a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of Trump.  

But after Trump lost the election last November, Johnson was among the majority of world leaders who immediately congratulated Biden without waiting for the outcome of Trump’s doomed efforts to overturn the election. 

While Trudeau was the first to speak to Biden, Johnson was the first in Europe to call the president-elect in what was described in some quarters as a ‘major diplomatic coup’. 

2017: Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit the Trump White House, a trip which is best remembered for the pair’s awkward hand-holding 

2019: Boris Johnson and Donald Trump at a G7 summit in Biarritz. Long seen as a natural ally of Trump, Johnson has made a point of welcoming Biden into office 

Downing Street said Johnson and Biden were ‘looking forward to working closely together on their shared priorities’ including climate change and the pandemic. 

Johnson also condemned the violence that Trump incited at the Capitol on January 6, saying it was ‘completely wrong’ for Trump to have disputed the election results. 

But it is Trudeau who will get the symbolic first call from Biden this week, having dealt with him before when he was vice president to Barack Obama. 

There is no official word yet on when or where Biden will make his first overseas trip, with diplomatic summits heavily constrained in the last year by the virus pandemic. 

But the Daily Telegraph reported this week that Biden’s first trip outside North America could be a visit to Britain for a G7 summit in June. 

Four years ago, Trump’s first foreign trip was a glitzy visit to Saudi Arabia, followed by meetings in Israel and Palestine. 

After his inauguration in 2017, his first recorded calls were with the leaders of Canada and Mexico the following day, followed by a conversation with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. 

May’s visit to Washington came only a few days after Trump was sworn in, after the two had spoken on the phone while Trump was president-elect. 

2009: Barack Obama speaks to Gordon Brown at the United Nations amid allegations of ‘snubs’ from Washington towards the UK 

2002: Seen here at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, Tony Blair and George W. Bush had a notoriously close relationship 

However, after he won the election in November 2016, Trump’s first call with a European leader was thought to be with Enda Kenny, the then-premier of Ireland.  

Before that, Barack Obama’s first known calls after taking office in 2009 were a trio of conversations with Canada’s Stephen Harper, the UK’s Gordon Brown and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. 

The Obama White House used the term ‘special relationship’ in its account of the call with Brown, but there were later rumours of ‘snubs’ sparking panic in Britain. 

Later in 2009 the two leaders were said to have held a meeting in the kitchens of a UN building after Obama’s team allegedly spurned requests for a proper summit. 

When Obama left office in 2017, his final call was with Germany’s Angela Merkel in what the White House hailed as a a ‘fitting’ sign-off to his foreign diplomacy.  

Earlier still, the first listed calls made by George W. Bush in 2001 were with Mexico’s Vicente Fox and the UK’s Tony Blair.  

Blair was the first European leader to visit Bush after he took office, visiting Washington for a bilateral summit in February that year. 

The relationship that would come to be defined by the Iraq War started with the so-called ‘Colgate summit’ where Bush, asked what the pair had in common, revealed that they used the same toothpaste. 

And in 1993, the newly-inaugurated Bill Clinton made his first known calls to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin.  

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