On the sidelines of the G7 summit, reports circulated that US President Joe Biden had gifted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a custom-made bike worth $6,000.
In return, Biden received, according to the same reports, a picture of a mural printed from the site of the free encyclopedia (Wikipedia) of the American Frederick Douglass, a supporter of the abolition of the death penalty in the 19th century.
According to The Washington Post, it seemed like an embarrassment to the norms of international diplomacy.
Donald Trump Jr, the son of the former US president, tweeted, speaking of “total disrespect for Biden” when exchanging gifts.
As I was saying…. The total lack of respect for Biden captured in one gift exchange. https://t.co/8TZllzcGKW
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 11, 2021
But the reality is different from these reports and tweets. The Washington Post quoted Bilenky Cycle Works, the Philadelphia company that manufactured Johnson’s bike, as saying that the US State Department had paid $1,800 to purchase it, even though its original price might reach $10,000.
Stephen Bilenky, the company’s owner, said the State Department initially proposed a budget of $1,500.
Bilenky believed he was the target of a scam when he received a “mysterious” email asking if he could produce a handmade bike for an unnamed foreigner in less than two weeks, a 14-hour-a-day job.
Bilenky got some hints about who would get the bike, and he was told he was a 5-8-year-old foreign leader from a country with a red, white, and blue flag. Little did he know that the gift would be for Johnson.
He had already agreed to manufacture the bike at a significantly lower price when he learned that he had asked the State Department.
The White House said the gift was to revive Biden and Johnson’s shared enthusiasm for cycling.
But if Johnson wants to use the bike, he will likely have to pay. British ministerial law allows government ministers to accept gifts worth less than £140, or about $200.
If they want to keep a more expensive gift, they have to pay the difference, which means Johnson could either end up paying nearly $1,600 for a bike he didn’t choose himself or confiscate it, according to the Washington Post.
As for Johnson giving Biden the gift of a Wikipedia print, that’s not the whole story either.
British Foreign Office officials found a picture that appeared on the Wikipedia page of Frederick Douglass, of a mural of Douglass, a famous abolitionist, painted on an Edinburgh street.
Melissa Hyton, who took the photo, told The Washington Post that the British Foreign Office called her, asking permission to use it as a gift for Biden, who mentioned Douglas in his letters.