Joe Biden appeared ‘dismissive’ towards Rishi Sunak when they met at an airport in Belfast last night before their ‘frosty awkwardness’ at a staged photoshoot today, a body language expert has said.
Judi James said the president placed a ‘hard, steering hand’ on Mr Sunak to ease him aside after the PM greeted him on the tarmac at Belfast International Airport for the start of his visit to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
She told MailOnline: ‘Sunak performed what is called an ingratiating ”act of inconvenience” by waiting on the windswept tarmac to greet Biden keenly the minute his feet touched the ground.
‘This ritual is a statement of respect that Biden would understand perfectly: the higher the rank of his own guests the further outside the White House he emerges to wait to greet them.
‘In Sunak’s case though, the compliment seemed to get brushed to one side, along with the PM. Did Biden even recognize Sunak?
Joe Biden placed a ‘hard steering hand’ on Rishi Sunak to move him aside when they met at Belfast International Airport last night, according to body language expert Judi James
Ms James said that after the initial greeting Mr Sunak went on to be ‘gently sidelined’
‘Was it because he looked different wearing his glasses? Because the hard, steering hand Biden seemed to place on Rishi’s arm appeared to push him firmly out of the way for Biden to greet and throw a smiling salute at a man in uniform.’
Ms James said that after the initial greeting Mr Sunak went on to be ‘gently sidelined’.
She said: ‘He was like the guest that can’t quite break into the main group at a party. Biden’s body language was warm, effusive and chatty with people like the US ambassador to the UK, but when Sunak seems to touch his arm to speak, Biden’s expression changes and his smile drops as he turns his head to listen.
‘Biden’s touch rituals with Sunak look more like power-pats and at the end he even places a hand on his shoulder as though to draw a close to his conversation.’
This morning, the pair sat down for a brief meeting over tea at a hotel in Belfast, with both men sitting awkwardly while photographers snapped photos of the occasion.
Analysing the meeting, Ms James said: ‘All leadership photo-shoots are manufactured but the main aim is to create a body language announcement signal that shows the rest of the world the state of the relationship between the two countries and even the two leaders themselves.
‘This ”announcement” from Biden then, seemed to be a declaration of frosty awkwardness. He looked detached, with no smile, eye contact, touch or exchanged chatter for Rishi despite the rather quaint and presumably friendly tea-room setting.
‘His mind looked as empty as the plates and cups on the table, although he was happy to indulge in some good-natured banter with the photographers, while Rishi sat nervously pretending to sip invisible tea from an empty cup.
‘The real test of a world leadership relationship tends to come during the last, telling few moments of these staged photo-calls, when the photographers have been told to leave.
‘As they were ushered away here there was not one glance, word or connection between Biden and Sunak despite the fact they could at that point drop the fake smiles and relax a bit.’
This morning, the pair sat down for a brief meeting over tea at a hotel in Belfast, with both men sitting awkwardly while photographers snapped photos of the occasion
Analysing the meeting, Ms James said: ‘All leadership photo-shoots are manufactured but the main aim is to create a body language announcement signal that shows the rest of the world the state of the relationship between the two countries and even the two leaders themselves’
Ms James said the exchange was the ‘most telling moment’ when it came to understanding the relationship between Mr Biden and Mr Sunak.
‘Even world leaders who are at loggerheads will often engage in some friendlier chatting once the official poses are over but Biden looked almost oblivious of Sunak’s existence here right up to the end of the clip,’ she said.
‘He sat throughout with his legs crossed away from Sunak in a gesture of subliminal rejection, sitting back with his elbows on the arms of the chair and a blank facial expression.’
It comes as Mr Biden played up his English roots today as he tried to counter claims he is ‘anti-British’ during a speech at Ulster University.
In a rambling anecdote, he described how a former US ambassador to the UK had discovered that one of his ancestors wrote the rules of mutiny for the British navy in the 1800s.
The body language expert said Mr Sunak looked prepared to ‘spin some kind of bonhomie’ but Mr Biden ‘didn’t want to play ball’
Close ups of the two leaders smiling at the camera during the photoshoot
Mr Biden – who has frequently trumpeted his Irish heritage’ – said that other parts of his family were from Nottingham, quipping that he ‘doesn’t know what the hell is going on here’.
The comments came after Mr Biden and Rishi Sunak held talks over tea at a hotel this morning. He praised the ‘leadership’ of Mr Sunak and the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen in striking the Windsor Framework for post-Brexit rules in the province, suggesting it could unlock more US investment.
However, hopes that the visit could help break the deadlock at Stormont have dwindled – with the DUP slamming the ‘extremely partisan’ president for ‘hating Britain’ after he trumpeted his Irish roots.
Mr Biden only ‘greeted’ the leaders of the main Northern Ireland political parties, before giving a speech and immediately heading over the border to the Republic, where he will spend the next three days.
AIRPORT MEETING: The American President was seen in conversation with Mr Sunak
Mr Biden was also greeted by US Ambassador to the United Kingdom Jane Hartley (centre). To his right was United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III
Biden and Sunak were all smiles as they spoke to each other at Belfast International
And despite fledgling signs of a thaw in relations after the Windsor Framework eased the row with the EU over post-Brexit rules in the province, US officials made clear the leaders would not even talk about reviving a trade package.
Mr Sunak said the countries were ‘very close partners and allies’ and they had a ‘very good discussion’ about economic opportunities in Northern Ireland.
‘That comes on the back of a meeting I had with him last month in the US, I’m seeing him again next month at the G7 and then I’m going to Washington in June; we’re very close partners and allies, we co-operate on a range of things, whether that’s supporting Ukraine or economic security,’ he said.
‘I think actually the relationship is in great shape, and the President and I have lots that we’re working on together.’