Joe Biden calls Rishi Sunak ‘president’ by mistake on PM’s first White House visit

Joe Biden accidentally referred to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as “Mr President” as the pair met in the US Oval Office.

As Joe Biden began to refer to Sunak as “Mr President”, he laughed and corrected himself before joking: “I just promoted you!”

He told the Prime Minister cordially: “In the past few months we have met each other in San Diego and then we met in Belfast and we met Hiroshima. And now we’re here we’re going solve all the problems of the world in the next 20 minutes.”

“Prime Minister Churchill and Roosevelt met here a little over 70 years ago,” Mr Biden added. He said that the two leaders asserted “to the strength of the partnership between Great Britain and the United States was the strength of the free world. I still think there’s truth in that assertion.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in the White House (PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in the White House (PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden joked about their frequent meetings in recent months during their joint press conference at the White House.

The US President welcomed the Prime Minister and quipped “appreciate you’re probably tired of meeting” as he listed their recent encounters.

Mr Sunak later said: “As Joe mentioned, he and I have seen quite a lot of each other in recent months.

“I gather our wives have even started to take spin classes together.”

Rishi Sunak also joked that he would not be “bothering” the US president during his stay in Washington DC, as Winston Churchill was said to have done.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Joe Biden told the Prime Minister “there’s an awful lot of stories that are told” about the UK wartime leader’s visits to the White House.

Mr Sunak is staying at the president’s guest house Blair House, which the US government started using as official diplomatic housing after Churchill reportedly once tried to enter President Franklin Roosevelt’s White House private quarters at 3am, only to be stopped by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Referring to the story, Mr Sunak said: “Wandering around at three in the morning. Winston Churchill bothering Mrs Roosevelt.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t see me there bothering you and the First Lady.”

The war in Ukraine was set to top the agenda, with the UK having led the West in supplying arms to Kyiv to fight back against Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The Prime Minister’s White House visit comes at a crunch time in the conflict, amid reports of Ukrainian forces seizing the initiative in a series of front-line battles thought to be part of the long-awaited counter-offensive. Its success, or not, could shape the outcome of the war. The two leaders were expected to also discuss the growing threat from China, artificial intelligence and Mr Biden’s inflation reduction act, a massive package of tax breaks and subsidies seeking to boost US green industries, which has been criticised as protectionism.

Crucially, they were also seeking to move on from the more fraught trans-Atlantic relations under the brief premiership of Liz Truss and of Boris Johnson, with tensions over their confrontational approach to Brexit and the Northern Ireland trade row.

US President Joe Biden praised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for his “strong strong leadership” over the war in Ukraine.

The two leaders have an “unwavering support of the people of Ukraine”, the US president said.

Mr Biden said that Ukraine was among the matters discussed between the two leaders as the people there are “defending themselves against the most brutal aggression we have seen for a long time at the hands of Russia and (Vladimir) Putin.”

Mr Biden, speaking during a press conference at the White House, said: “I want to thank the Prime Minister for his strong strong leadership, contributing significant amounts of security assistance in training Ukrainian troops so they can effectively use the equipment and ammunition we have collectively provided.”