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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) meets US President Joe Biden. Stefan Rousseau/PA
Good Friday Agreement

Biden stresses importance of NI peace process and downplays trade deal during Johnson meeting

The US president met UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the Oval Office.

JOE BIDEN AGAIN stressed the importance of protecting the peace process in Northern Ireland and downplayed prospects of brokering a post-Brexit trade deal with Boris Johnson during a meeting in the White House.

The US President issued a fresh warning for the UK not to damage the peace process in Northern Ireland over the EU departure.

Biden did not counter the assertion from his predecessor Barack Obama’s that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” for a post-Brexit free trade agreement.

Sitting next to Johnson in the Oval Office, the US President told reporters: “We’re going to talk a little bit about trade today and we’re going to have to work that through.”

Johnson updated the president on the “developments” on the Northern Ireland Protocol since their meeting in Cornwall in June.

Vocally proud of his Irish heritage, Biden said he feels “very strongly” about the issues surrounding the peace process, as problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol persisted.

“And I would not at all like to see, nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland,” he said.

Video available: Joe Biden issues warning over Northern Ireland Protocol

Johnson said “that’s absolutely right”, adding: “On that point, Joe, we’re completely at one, nobody wants to see anything that interrupts or unbalances the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

Johnson told reporters in Manhattan there were “plenty of reason to be optimistic” about getting the free trade agreement (FTA) with the US.

But the Vote Leave figurehead downplayed the prospects of brokering a trade deal by the next election, raising the possibility that he could leave Downing Street without achieving a key ambition for the post-Brexit era.

His concession came after suggesting trade negotiations are not a priority for the US president, who he accepted has “a lot of fish to fry”.

The Prime Minister’s first White House meeting with Biden since he succeeded Donald Trump came as the UK Government’s hopes for securing a comprehensive free trade deal with the US faded.

British ministers were understood to be instead considering whether to join an existing pact with the US, Mexico and Canada to boost trans-Atlantic trade in a major departure from their prior ambitions.

Downing Street said brokering a comprehensive deal with the White House remains “the priority” but did not rule out joining other pacts as a backup.

“Our focus is on the US stand-alone deal and that’s what we’re working towards,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Earlier in the day, Johnson was unable to commit to securing the deal – touted as a prize of Brexit by Leave supporters during the EU referendum – before the next election

Last week, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, linked respecting the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, which provides for an open border with the Republic of Ireland, to any trade negotiations with London.

In one possible boost to trans-Atlantic trade, Biden said they are “going to be working on lamb” – with imports currently banned from Britain.

Ahead of the Biden-Johnson meeting, Taoiseach Michéal Martin was asked by reporters what message Biden would have for the UK premier on Brexit.

Martin said: “He has been very consistent in terms of the messaging he has given Boris Johnson and the UK in relation to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Unionists in Northern Ireland have been opposed to its terms, which see additional checks on goods arriving to the region from Britain.

Additional reporting from AFP

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