Boris Johnson has grilled billionaire Jeff Bezos over the amount of tax Amazon pays in the UK – but praised his efforts to save the rainforest.
Downing Street said the PM ‘raised the issue of taxation’ when he sat down with the world’s richest man during his trip to New York for the UN General Assembly.
But Mr Johnson also hailed a commitment from Mr Bezos to give $1billion to protect forests and remove carbon from the air.
As the pair discussed the climate crisis late last night, the premier joked that ‘Amazon is coming to the rescue of the Amazon’.
Mr Bezos replied: ‘In part, we are going to start with the Congo basin, we are going to start with some rain sanctuaries, in the Andes, two different areas.’
Amazon sales in the UK soared by 51 per cent to almost £20billion last year, buoyed by coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Despite the boom, estimates have put Amazon as having a tax-to-turnover ratio of just 0.37 per cent.
Boris Johnson sat down to speak with the American entrepreneur Jeff Bezos during his trip to New York
The Prime Minister appeared in high spirits as he shook hands with the billionaire
Mr Johnson had earlier committed to bringing up the e-commerce company’s taxes in the UK
Mr Bezos had been delayed by a roadblock in New York and was late to meet the Prime Minister and members of the UK mission to the UN.
He joked as he sat down: ‘I am very much hoping the hardest thing I do today is get here.’
His partner Lauren Sanchez, wearing a white trouser suit and black heels, waved her footwear at the PM to show the distance she walked, saying: ‘He’s complaining? Really? Come on.’
Asked en route to New York on Sunday if he would challenge Mr Bezos on Amazon paying a fair share of taxes in the UK and to improve workers rights, Mr Johnson said: ‘Yes, certainly.’
No10 said after the talks: ‘The Prime Minister met founder of Amazon and the Bezos Earth Fund, Jeff Bezos, in New York today.
Boris is ‘not counting chickens’ on any Biden climate cash drive
Boris Johnson has insisted ‘we are not counting our chickens’ over hopes Joe Biden could make a major commitment that would spur on a financing drive to tackle the climate crisis.
The PM said it would ‘send a massively powerful signal’ if the US president announces extra support to help hit a target of giving 100 billion dollars (£73 billion) a year to support developing nations to cut emissions. Mr Johnson had earlier downplayed the prospects of reaching the figure by the Cop26 summit he is hosting in November, but ministers appeared hopeful that Mr Biden could spur things on during his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday.
US climate envoy John Kerry had suggested the 100 billion dollar target will be met, hinting Mr Biden could announce more money. But, speaking to reporters at the UN on Monday, Mr Johnson said: ‘We have been here before. We have all heard lots of pledges and positive noises. We are not counting our chickens here.’
‘They discussed the upcoming COP26 Summit and agreed that there was an urgent need to mobilise more public and private money to help developing countries protect biodiversity, including through the LEAF Coalition.
‘The Prime Minister welcomed the Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment, announced tonight, to give $1 billion to protect forests and remove carbon from the air. The Prime Minister and Mr Bezos agreed to work together to see what more could be done in the run up to and at COP26.
‘The Prime Minister raised the issue of taxation, and hoped progress could be in implementing the G7 agreement on tax.’
It comes as Mr Johnson met other world leaders at the UN General Assembly this week.
He last night admitted he faces an uphill battle to persuade Joe Biden to sign a post-Brexit trade deal – saying the President had other ‘fish to fry’.
Speaking ahead of his first White House summit today, Mr Johnson said a number of longstanding trade issues had been resolved – on Scotch whisky and British beef.
But he played down hopes of an imminent trade deal, which was on the cusp of being agreed when Donald Trump left office last year.
Although he said his relationship with Mr Biden has not ‘been very long in gestation’, he told reporters en route to the US: ‘On the free trade agreement (FTA), the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry. He’s got a huge infrastructure package, he’s got a build back better package.
‘We want to do it – but what we want is a good FTA, a great FTA. And I have quite a lot of experience of American negotiations and they are pretty ruthless, the American negotiators.
‘And I would much rather get a deal that really works for the UK than get a quick deal.’
Mr Biden was vice-president when Barack Obama issued his notorious threat to place Britain at the ‘back of the queue’ for a US trade deal if it voted for Brexit.
He has also made no secret of his concerns about UK efforts to unpick parts of the Brexit trade deal with the EU relating to Northern Ireland.
Downing Street yesterday refused to say whether the Government believes it can strike a deal before the crucial midterm elections in the US in November next year.
But Mr Johnson will try to smooth the path to a deal during talks with Congressional leaders in Washington today.
The PM will also meet with Vice-President Kamala Harris before seeing Mr Biden in the evening.
Mr Johnson will today become only the second European leader to visit Mr Biden at the White House, following Angela Merkel’s trip in July.
Prior to his meeting Mr Johnson had said he would challenge Mr Bezos on Amazon paying a fair share of taxes in the UK. Pictured: Jeff Bezos looks down at his partner Lauren Sánchez’s foot
Mr Johnson met with the Amazon founder and his partner Lauren Sánchez in New York City
The Prime Minister’s meeting with the Amazon founder comes after he met world leaders at the UN General Assembly this week
The President was scathing about Mr Johnson during his election campaign in 2019, describing him as a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of President Trump.
However, the two men appeared to strike up a decent working relationship during the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.
But Mr Johnson acknowledged they had not yet formed the deep bond sometimes seen between British PMs and US Presidents in the past.
When asked about the personal relations between the two men, Mr Johnson said: ‘Look, I’ve only had long conversations with Joe Biden either on the phone or at Carbis Bay and then Nato.
‘It hasn’t been a relationship that’s been very long in gestation. But it’s terrific, I mean genuinely terrific. We see eye to eye on all sorts of things.
‘Have we bonded over any particular thing? He’s a bit of a train nut, as am I. He likes trains, which is a good thing.’
The Prime Minister said he would congratulate the Amazon founder on his massive forestry initiative prior to the meeting
Although he said his relationship with Mr Biden (pictured together with Australian PM Scott Morrison in June) has not ‘been very long in gestation’, he told reporters en route to the US: ‘On the free trade agreement (FTA), the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry. He’s got a huge infrastructure package, he’s got a build back better package’
Mr Johnson said relationships with the US were ‘about as good as they have been at any time in decades’.
And that a number of ‘pebbles in the shoe’ had been removed in recent years, particularly on trade.
He also pointed to the formation of the new AUKUS security pact agreed last week. The deal commits the UK and US to assisting Australia in countering the threat posed by China.
Mr Johnson is also expected to try to patch up the relationship with President Biden over Afghanistan today.
The PM is said to have felt ‘let down’ over the rapid withdrawal, which saw the Taliban seize power.
But US diplomatic sources said Mr Johnson had work to do after ‘whingeing in public’.
One said the decision to withdraw had first been made by Mr Trump following negotiations with the Taliban which were not opposed by the UK.