It apparently took Rishi Sunak, leading Global Britain, thirty-nine days to have a telephone conversation with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after his landmark win in the presidential election in Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy and a sought after trading partner.
Lula, meanwhile, had already spoken to US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and Emmanuel Macron, among other world leaders, as well as meeting the French President in Paris, and a host of leading international public figures at Cop 27 in Egypt.
The British Prime Minister had texted congratulations to Lula following his victory over the hard-right incumbent, Jair Bolsanero on October 30.
During their subsequent call, which did not take place until December 9, Mr Sunak and the Brazilian President-Elect talked about “the importance of taking action to reverse forest loss, plans to preserve biodiversity and transition to a greener economy.
The leaders [also] wished each other good luck in their respective upcoming World Cup matches”, according to Downing Street.
There is surprise among Lula’s team at the time it has taken Sunak to reach out to the President-elect who will be inaugurated on Sunday in Brasilia.
Relations were already strained between Britain’s successive Conservative governments and Lula’s camp due to Tory ministers seeking cordial relations with Bolsonaro while ignoring the left-wing progressive Lula, and his Workers Party.
This has played a part in there being little likelihood of a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and Brazil – a stated priority for the government in London which proposed an Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) to Brazil in February this year, since when there has been little progress made in negotiations.
Senior members of Lula’s team have said the impasse was unlikely to end unless Britain makes substantial changes to its “unequal terms” – especially on access of Brazilian agricultural products to the UK market.
Brazilian officials point out that the lack of communication over the years between London and Lula, a former President, has failed to build relations and “has not helped” in progressing the deal.
Lula, described by Barack Obama as “one of the most popular politicians on Earth,” has cordial relations with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Sir Keir Starmer. The Labour leader sent an emailed letter to Lula after his election victory which the President-elect’s team consider as “very positive for the future.”
One Lula advisor reflected: “We understand that the British Prime Minister faces lots of domestic problems at the moment, but we were expecting a call sooner.
“However, we remain open to building good relations and continuing dialogue on issues such as the environment with focus on the Amazon rainforest in which UK initiatives are of importance. We will continue to build links across the international community.”
One link which is due to be forged is the EU-Mercosur trade deal. It was meant to have been finalised in 2019 but has been in limbo due to European concerns about Amazon deforestation and Bolsonaro’s authoritarian rule.
There is now a real prospect of an agreement within six months between the Mercosur bloc – which also includes Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – and Brussels.
The focus in Brazil, meanwhile, is on next week’s inauguration which will be attended by delegations from 120 countries. They will include 17 heads of state, mainly from Latin America, but also from Germany, Spain and Portugal.
The election victory of 77-year-old Lula, five years after he was jailed on trumped-up corruption charges instigated by his political opponents, was close with Bolsanaro and his supporters making unsupported allegations of fraud.
There was apprehension that Bolsanaro, an ally of Donald Trump, would refuse to accept defeat and leave office. His supporters blocked roads in protest and repeatedly asked the military to intervene.
Bolsanaro eventually agreed for the transition of power to take place but has not formally recognised the result.
There were renewed clashes between the police in Brasilia a fortnight ago with his supporters who declared they would not allow the political handover to go ahead and groups have camped outside army bases for weeks calling for a coup.
A Bolsanaro supporter was arrested last weekend after explosives were placed in a fuel truck near Brasilia airport. He allegedly said during questioning that his aim was to “ prevent the establishment of communism in Brazil” .The device failed to go off.
On Thursday, Brazilian police arrested at least four people and carried out nationwide raids as part of their investigation into another alleged coup attempt.
Those arrested were held under suspicion of “qualified damage, arson, criminal association, violent abolition of the rule of law and coup d’tat, whose maximum combined penalties amount to 34 years in prison”.
Flavio Dino, the security minister in the incoming administration, said that this weekend “there will be a mobilisation of hundred per cent of the police force in Brasilia to ensure the safety of not only the President but also of foreign delegations and the public”.
The Supreme Court ruled this week that the carrying of firearms in the capital will be banned until after the swearing-in ceremony.
There has been a marked proliferation of weapons in the country after Bolsanaro loosened controls after getting to power, swelling the number of registered gun owners sixfold to 700,000 people.
Bolsanaro, according to reports, will break custom and not attend the inauguration of his successor. According to some accounts he will be visiting Trump at his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago from where the former US President his running his re-election campaign.
The Foreign Office was approached for comment.