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Transcript: Boris Johnson on "Face the Nation," February 14, 2021

Boris Johnson: Biden's early moves "incredibly encouraging"
Boris Johnson: Biden's early moves "incredibl... 13:22

The following is a transcript of an interview with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson that aired Sunday, February 14, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: This morning, a special interview with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He, like President Biden, is struggling with the pandemic. The U.K. death rate by percentage of population has now surpassed the US rate and is one of the highest in the world. Good morning to you, Mr. Prime Minister.
 
PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM BORIS JOHNSON: Good morning.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for joining us. I- I wanted to ask you a little bit of your reflection on what just happened overnight. You strongly condemned the attack on the US Capitol and said it was completely wrong for then President Trump to have consistently cast doubt on the outcome of a free election in terms of America's global standing. What signal did his acquittal make?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: I think the clear message that we get from the proceedings in America is that after all the toings and froings and all the kerfuffle, American democracy is strong and the American Constitution is strong and- and robust. And we're delighted now, I'm very delighted, to have a good relationship with the White House, which is an important part of any UK prime minister's mission. And I've had some good conversations already with- with President Biden, fantastic conversations about the way he sees things. And, you know, MARGARET, there's been some important developments in the way the UK, US thinking has been coming together in the last few weeks, and particularly on issues like climate change, on NATO, on Iran, but above all, on the ways that the US and the UK are going to work together to deal with the environmental challenge that faces our- our planet. And there, I think some of the stuff we're now hearing from the new American administration and from the new White House is incredibly encouraging. And we want to work with the- with the president on that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I understand you will be hosting President Biden for his first foreign minister's- foreign meeting on the 19th, although it'll be virtual because of COVID. The Trump administration has already pledged about 4 billion dollars in December to the Global Vaccine Alliance in this fight against COVID. And I understand that's the focus of your upcoming meeting with President Biden. What are you asking him to do?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: The United States and the U.K. both have an incredibly proud record of supporting the COVAX Global Vaccine Alliance. So together we contribute huge sums to ensuring that countries around the world that are less fortunate than ours have access to- to vaccines. And we'll be working to- to make sure that that happens. What I also want to see is the- the US and the U.K. working together to learn the lessons from the pandemic and to build back better together. I'm thrilled that President Biden has also got a slogan, "Build Back Better." I think- I think I claim that we used it first. And to be truthful, I think we- we nicked it from someone else before I started using it. But it's the right slogan, MARGARET. We've got to learn from this pandemic. We've got to learn about how to- to share information, how to- how to share drugs properly, how to make sure we don't hoard things like personal protective equipment, as you saw earlier on in the pandemic. We've got to make sure that we- we are distributing vaccines. In the- in the U.K, we now have one of the fastest vaccine rollouts anywhere in the world. As- as your viewers may perhaps know that we've- I think we've done almost 15 million vaccinations in our country. It was- I think more than one in four adults has now had a vaccination. That's- that's tremendously fast progress.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: But we want to make sure that we work with countries like- like the United States so that everybody gets a vaccination. There's no point in in great countries like the United States, the U.K., vaccinating our own populations if we don't ensure that everybody gets a vaccine.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're using the US for more money towards that?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: This is a pandemic. The US has already been extremely generous, as you said yourself, and the U.K. is the second biggest contributor to- to COVAX and to the global anti-virus,--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --the- the Vaccination Alliance that- the Gavi organization. And we'll continue to do that. And, you know, just as the pandemic doesn't respect borders, so the fight against the pandemic is going to be mounted by- by countries coming together. Scientists work together across borders to beat this thing. And today, the incredible thing is that science is really gaining the upper hand--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --and looking at the pandemic in your country, in my country,--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --I reckon science, in this arm wrestle, science is winning.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: In this arm wrestle though,  I want to ask you about what the World Health Organization report actually constituted--
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: Yes.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN:--because the Biden administration was clear, they have deep concerns about the investigation, about Chinese interference, and they are demanding that China hand over data about the early outbreak. Are you joining them in that call? Is China obscuring what happened?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: One of the things we'll be calling for in the- the G7, which President Biden is going to be joining, I'm glad to say, is the- is global coordination in getting to the bottom of what happens with these diseases. So when you have a zoonotic plague like coronavirus, we need to know exactly how it happened. Indeed, if it's- if it's zoonotic, if it really originated from human contact with the animal kingdom, that's what is asserted. But we need to know exactly what happened. Was it in a- in a wet market? Did it come from the bats? Were the bats associated with the- the pangolins? All these questions are now matters of speculation. We need to see the data. We need to see all the evidence. So I- I thoroughly support what President Biden has said about that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: British government scientists revealed on Friday that that particular strain, B.1.1.7, which was first detected in your country, is likely increased to a greater rate of hospitalization and death, perhaps as much as 40 to 60% more. You're under a lot of political pressure to open your schools. Are you certain you can do that next month?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: We're proceeding in a cautious way, and what you've got at the moment in the U.K. is the virus coming down. You're perfectly correct in what you say about the- the B.1.1.7 variant, though bear in mind that the reason we've been able to isolate this and other variants is that the U.K. conducts far more genomic analysis than any other country. Of all the genomic testing that's going on in the world, we do like 47% here in the UK. So we're pretty good at spotting these mutations of these viruses and- and tracking their movement through our populations. It's absolutely true that it- that this one spreads faster. But what you're now seeing is, thanks to the efforts of the British people, the- the lockdown, plus possibly the- the effects of the vaccine, we're going to start seeing the- the rates coming down more sharply. And they're--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But--
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --they're falling at the moment. We want to be in a position where- where we can begin to open up. So what I've said, MARGARET, is that on March the 8th, we want schools to go back if we possibly can. I'm not saying that we're announcing that today because we're going to be seeing a lot more on the 22nd of this month. We'll be making clear our roadmap.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: And I think what people want to see, and this may be the same in the US as well, is clarity about the way forward and taking steps to unlock that you don't then have to reverse because that I think--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly, and that's what I want to--
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --is what is so difficult for businesses and for people.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's what I want to press you on, though, Mr. Prime Minister, because when you announced you were shutting schools in January and you had really prioritized for a long time keeping open schools, when you said they've got to shut down in January, you said they were because they might be vectors of transmission for the community. If you've got this strain circulating and you believe schools are vectors of transmission, how can you reopen them?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: The answer to- to that is that you need to see what the effect of the vaccination program is in removing likely victims- victims in the- in the sense of people who suffer either death or serious disease, what the success of the vaccination program has in removing those people from the path of the- of the disease and also what's happening with the- the rate of infection. It's now coming down, MARGARET, very considerably in our country. What we don't know is quite how fast it's going to be coming down in the next couple of weeks. But we'll be saying a lot more about in the- in the days ahead.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the vaccines that you are using is from UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. And there are questions now about how effective it can be against some of the mutant strains, particularly the one first detected in South Africa. Are you concerned you're putting a flawed vaccine into the arms of your constituents, and what's your backup plan?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: We have great confidence in all the vaccinations that we're using and we have no reason to think that they are ineffective against any variation of the- any- any variant, any new variant of the- of the virus in protecting people, MARGARET, against a serious illness and death. And that's- that's a very important consideration for us. When you look at Pfizer or AstraZeneca, or Oxford AstraZeneca, we're confident that these have a major beneficial effect in protecting vulnerable people against- against illness and death and also very probably, and- and this is another important thing, in reducing the spread of the disease. One of the features of Oxford AstraZeneca, that has been recently confirmed by the scientists is that it- it reduces transmission between people as well. There's a 67% reduction in transmission as a result of the use of these vaccinations.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Back in April, you were hospitalized with COVID. You were quite ill. You were in the ICU. Did you ever think you wouldn't make it?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: I think in common with many people in my country, I'm very grateful to the fantastic work of the- of the NHS and they did an outstanding job and they continue to do an outstanding job. Thankfully, since last April, we now have treatment, some of them actually pioneered here in this country, dexamethasone and others, which make a huge difference to people's experience in hospital. And in addition, as I say, we have the vaccine. So the world has moved on a long way since- since March, April of last year. And it's a very exciting, a very moving thing to see the way science, medicine, human ingenuity is really coming to the rescue of- of humanity. And an absolutely incredible thing to- to see how governments combined with great companies. And, you know, you've got to you've got to hand--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah, you're not answering the question, sir.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --whole free market capitalist system. What's the question?
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: If- did you think you might not make it?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: Did I think I was going to- what's the question? Well, no that didn't occur. I mean, I think one of the- one of the- one of the features of this- of this illness is that you don't as- as you undergo it, it's possible you don't realize quite what- what state you're in. I think that is one of the features of it, because your oxygen levels go down in a way that perhaps the patient doesn't necessarily detect themselves.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's why it's so serious. I want to ask you about US-UK relations. You have not yet met President Biden, though you're about to have this virtual meeting. You did have a phone call. Back in 2019, he referred to you, as I'm sure you know, as "the physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump." Are you concerned you're going to start off on the wrong foot?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: I've had, I think, already two long and very good conversations with the president and we had a really good exchange, particularly about climate change and what he wants to do. I think it's today that America has just joined the- the Paris Accords, ended the- the reversal of America's membership of that. And that's great news. We want to- we want to build back better together, particularly in the run up to the COP summit in November in Glasgow this year, which we hoped will be a- a physical incarnation of the- of the leaders of the world to agree with what we hope will be a fantastic thing, which is everybody to get to a net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but also making pledges on the way what they're going to do to get there--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --by 2030. So that means moving to new techno- technology in a way that I think the Biden administration supports, getting much- many more of our vehicles powered by electricity,--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --putting a big bet on hydrogen, putting a big bet on wind power. And the U.K., you may or may not know, is blessed with phenomenal gusts of wind, particularly in the North Sea. And we intend to harness this to become the Saudi Arabia of wind and, as it were, and--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, President Biden--
 
 PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON. --there's a massive opportunity, I think, for the US and the UK to- to share- to share technology and to work together and using technological solutions--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --to drive down CO2 emissions.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you may see the same- same direction on those issues. But on the issue of Ireland, you may have some difference here. President Biden doesn't want you to put that peace agreement in Northern Ireland at risk at all, has made clear that border needs to stay open and you need to adhere to that EU-UK agreement from December. Can you commit and reassure the US Congress and the US president that you will do so in all circumstances, stick to that agreement?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: You bet. This is fundamental for us, the- the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Peace Agreement, the Good Friday process, the Belfast Agreement, these- these agreements are absolutely crucial--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Northern Ireland Protocol?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --for our continued stability- our continued stability and- and- and success as a- as a UK- and I have a great relationship with- with- with- with Dublin, with Michael Martin, the Irish Taoiseach. And we're going to work together to do some great things and- and, MARGARET, be in no doubt we don't want to do anything to jeopardize the achievements of the- the Northern Irish peace process. It's absolutely vital.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Northern Ireland Protocol specifically? You will adhere to that open border?
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: We want to make sure that there's free movement, north south, free movement east- east west, and- and we guarantee the rights of the- of the people of Northern Ireland, of course.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm told we are at time. Thank you very much for your time today.
 
PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: No. MARGARET, thank you so much. Thank you.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute. Stay with us.


Below is a transcript of the interview that aired Sunday, February 14, 2021:


MARGARET BRENNAN: This morning, a special interview with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He, like President Biden, is struggling with the pandemic. The U.K. death rate by percentage of population has now surpassed the US rate and is one of the highest in the world. Good morning to you, Mr. Prime Minister. 

PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM  BORIS JOHNSON: Good morning.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for joining us. I- I wanted to ask you a little bit of your reflection on what just happened overnight. You strongly condemned the attack on the US Capitol and said it was completely wrong for then President Trump to have consistently cast doubt on the outcome of a free election in terms of America's global standing. What signal did his acquittal make? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: I think the clear message that we get from the proceedings in America is that after all the to-ings and fro-ings and all the kerfuffle, American democracy is strong and the American Constitution is strong and- and robust. And we're delighted now, I'm very delighted, to have a good relationship with the White House, which is an important part of any UK prime minister's mission. And I've had some good conversations already with- with President Biden, fantastic conversations about the way he sees things. And, you know, MARGARET, there's been some important developments in the way the UK, US thinking has been coming together in the last few weeks, and particularly on issues like climate change, on NATO, on Iran, but above all, on the ways that the US and the UK are going to work together to deal with the environmental challenge that faces our- our planet. And there, I think some of the stuff we're now hearing from the new American administration and from the new White House is incredibly encouraging. And we want to work with the- with the president on that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I understand you will be hosting President Biden for his first foreign minister's- foreign meeting on the 19th, although it'll be virtual because of COVID. The Trump administration has already pledged about 4 billion dollars in December to the Global Vaccine Alliance in this fight against COVID. And I understand that's the focus of your upcoming meeting with President Biden. What are you asking him to do? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: The United States and the U.K. both have an incredibly proud record of supporting the COVAX Global Vaccine Alliance. So together we contribute huge sums to ensuring that countries around the world that are less fortunate than ours have access to- to vaccines. And we'll be working to- to make sure that that happens. What I also want to see is the- the US and the U.K. working together to learn the lessons from the pandemic and to build back better together. I'm thrilled that President Biden has also got a slogan, "Build Back Better." I think- I think I claim that we used it first. And to be truthful, I think we- we nicked it from someone else before I started using it. But it's the right slogan, MARGARET. We've got to learn from this pandemic. We've got to learn about how to- to share information, how to- how to share drugs properly, how to make sure we don't hoard things like personal protective equipment, as you saw earlier on in the pandemic. We've got to make sure that we- we are distributing vaccines. In the- in the U.K, we now have one of the fastest vaccine rollouts anywhere in the world. As- as your viewers may perhaps know that we've- I think we've done almost 15 million vaccinations in our country. It was- I think more than one in four adults has now had a vaccination. That's- that's tremendously fast progress.  

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: But we want to make sure that we work with countries like- like the United States so that everybody gets a vaccination. There's no point in in great countries like the United States, the U.K., vaccinating our own populations if we don't ensure that everybody gets a vaccine.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you're asking the US for more money towards that?  

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: This is a pandemic. The US has already been extremely generous, as you said yourself, and the U.K. is the second biggest contributor to- to COVAX and to the global anti-virus,-- 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --the- the Vaccination Alliance that- the Gavi organization. And we'll continue to do that. I want to ask you about what the World Health Organization report actually constituted--  

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: Yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN:--because the Biden administration was clear, they have deep concerns about the investigation, about Chinese interference, and they are demanding that China hand over data about the early outbreak. Are you joining them in that call? Is China obscuring what happened? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: One of the things we'll be calling for in the- the G7, which President Biden is going to be joining, I'm glad to say, is the- is global coordination in getting to the bottom of what happens with these diseases. So, when you have a zoonotic plague like coronavirus, we need to know exactly how it happened. Indeed, if it's- if it's zoonotic, if it really originated from human contact with the animal kingdom, that's what is asserted. But we need to know exactly what happened. Was it in a- in a wet market? Did it come from the bats? Were the bats associated with the- the pangolins? All these questions are now matters of speculation. We need to see the data. We need to see all the evidence. So I- I thoroughly support what President Biden has said about that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: British government scientists revealed on Friday that that particular strain, B.1.1.7, which was first detected in your country, is likely increased to a greater rate of hospitalization and death, perhaps as much as 40 to 60% more. You're under a lot of political pressure to open your schools. Are you certain you can do that next month? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: We're proceeding in a cautious way, and what you've got at the moment in the U.K. is the virus coming down. You're perfectly correct in what you say about the- the B.1.1.7 variant, though bear in mind that the reason we've been able to isolate this and other variants is that the U.K. conducts far more genomic analysis than any other country. Of all the genomic testing that's going on in the world, we do like 47% here in the UK. So, we're pretty good at spotting these mutations of these viruses and- and tracking their movement through our populations. It's absolutely true that it- that this one spreads faster. But what you're now seeing is, thanks to the efforts of the British people, the- the lockdown, plus possibly the- the effects of the vaccine, we're going to start seeing the- the rates coming down more sharply. And they're--  

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --they're falling at the moment. We want to be in a position where- where we can begin to open up. So what I've said, MARGARET, is that on March the 8th, we want schools to go back if we possibly can. I'm not saying that we're announcing that today because we're going to be seeing a lot more on the 22nd of this month. We'll be making clear our roadmap.  

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: And I think what people want to see, and this may be the same in the US as well, is clarity about the way forward and taking steps to unlock that you don't then have to reverse because that I think-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly, and that's what I want to-- 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --is what is so difficult for businesses and for people. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's what I want to press you on, though, Mr. Prime Minister, because when you announced you were shutting schools in January and you had really prioritized for a long time keeping open schools, when you said they've got to shut down in January, you said they were because they might be vectors of transmission for the community. If you've got this strain circulating and you believe schools are vectors of transmission, how can you reopen them? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: The answer to- to that is that you need to see what the effect of the vaccination program is in removing likely victims- victims in the- in the sense of people who suffer either death or serious disease, what the success of the vaccination program has in removing those people from the path of the- of the disease and also what's happening with the-the rate of infection. It's now coming down, MARGARET, very considerably in our country. What we don't know is quite how fast it's going to be coming down in the next couple of weeks 

MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the vaccines that you are using is from UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. And there are questions now about how effective it can be against some of the mutant strains, particularly the one first detected in South Africa. Are you concerned you're putting a flawed vaccine into the arms of your constituents, and what's your backup plan? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: We have great confidence in all the vaccinations that we're using and we have no reason to think that they are ineffective against any variation of the- any- any variant, any new variant of the- of the virus in protecting people, MARGARET, against a serious illness and death. And that's- that's a very important consideration for us. One of the features of Oxford AstraZeneca, that has been recently confirmed by the scientists is that it- it reduces transmission between people as well. There's a 67% reduction in transmission as a result of the use of these vaccinations. 

Ok Mr. Prime Minister, we're going to take a short break, Face the Nation will be back in one minute, stay with us.  

We're back with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Back in April, you were hospitalized with COVID. You were quite ill. You were in the ICU. Did you ever think you wouldn't make it? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: I think in common with many people in my country, I'm very grateful to the fantastic work of the- of the NHS and they did an outstanding job and they continue to do an outstanding job.  

I think one of the- one of the- one of the features of this- of this illness is that you don't as- as you undergo it, it's possible you don't realize quite what- what state you're in. I think that is one of the features of it, because your oxygen levels go down in a way that perhaps the patient doesn't necessarily detect themselves. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's why it's so serious.   I want to ask you about US-UK relations. You have not yet met President Biden, though you're about to have this virtual meeting. You did have a phone call. Back in 2019, he referred to you, as I'm sure you know, as "the physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump." Are you concerned you're going to start off on the wrong foot? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: I've had, I think, already two long and very good conversations with the president and we had a really good exchange, particularly about climate change and what he wants to do. We want to build back better together, particularly in the run up to the COP summit in November in Glasgow this year, which we hoped will be a- a physical incarnation of the- of the leaders of the world to agree with what we hope will be a fantastic thing, which is everybody to get to a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but also making pledges on the way what they're going to do to get there by 2030. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: On the issue of Ireland, you may have some difference here. President Biden doesn't want you to put that peace agreement in Northern Ireland at risk at all, has made clear that border needs to stay open and you need to adhere to that EU-UK agreement from December. Can you commit and reassure the US Congress and the US president that you will do so in all circumstances, stick to that agreement? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: You bet. This is fundamental for us, the- the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Peace Agreement, the Good Friday process, the Belfast Agreement, these- these agreements are absolutely crucial--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Northern Ireland Protocol? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: --for our continued stability- our continued stability and- and- and success as a- as a UK- and I have a great relationship with- with- with- with Dublin, with Michael Martin, the Irish Taoiseach. And we're going to work together to do some great things and- and, MARGARET, be in no doubt we don't want to do anything to jeopardize the achievements of the- the Northern Irish peace process. It's absolutely vital. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Northern Ireland Protocol specifically? You will adhere to that open border? 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: We want to make sure that there's free movement, north south, free movement east- east west, and- and we guarantee the rights of the- of the people of Northern Ireland, of course. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm told we are at time. Thank you very much for your time today. 

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON: No. MARGARET, thank you so much. Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute. Stay with us. 

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