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Biden gives ‘candid’ message to Johnson on Northern Ireland Brexit row

The US President told the UK Prime Minister he must protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden
Image: PA Images

Updated Jun 14th 2021, 8:41 AM

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden urged Boris Johnson to ensure the Northern Ireland peace process is protected in his bitter row with Brussels over post-Brexit trading arrangements, the White House has disclosed.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden – who has spoken of his pride in his Irish roots – had held a “candid discussion” with the Prime Minister about the issue during the course of the G7 summit in Cornwall.

Answering questions from American reporters, Sullivan said the president had expressed his views with “deep sincerity” but declined to go into detail, suggesting Biden may have delivered his message with some feeling.

“All I’m going to say: they did discuss this issue. They had a candid discussion of it in private,” Sullivan said.

“The president naturally, and with deep sincerity, encouraged the Prime Minister to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the progress made under it.

“The specifics beyond that, I’m not going to get into.”

Sullivan would not be drawn on whether the president had linked the issue to a free trade deal with the UK and did not specify when the conversation took place.

The two leaders held a bilateral meeting on Thursday before the main summit began and afterwards Johnson played down any differences between them on the issue.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday said that a further grace period for the Northern Ireland Protocol would be “very problematic”.

Speaking on Sky News, Martin said: “I think the UK Government are under no illusions about where the EU is coming from in relation to the Protocol.

“But the European Union is willing and very engaged in endeavoring in trying to find the solutions to the issues that have been raised in respect of the Northern Ireland Protocol. And, in my view, the channels do exist to get this resolved.”

‘Offensive’

The disclosure came as the gathering ended with a furious diplomatic spat after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused French President Emmanuel Macron and other senior EU figures of talking about Northern Ireland “as if it was some kind of different country to the UK”.

He described such attitudes as “offensive” and called on the EU to show “respect” as such comments caused deep concern within Northern Ireland.

The DUP’s new leader Edwin Poots sent a copy of the Good Friday Agreement to Macron after he made the remarks.

In a statement released yesterday, Poots said: “Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion that Northern Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom is offensive and demands a statement from the French administration which recognises Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.”

He suggested that Macron’s comments expose “ignorance” within the European Union.

“It’s five years since the referendum. Northern Ireland has been centre stage for most of that time yet the most powerful man in one of the most powerful EU countries still doesn’t realise that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It’s incredible,” he said.

Poots again called for the Northern Ireland Protocol to be removed.

At his closing news conference, Macron strongly denied that he had ever questioned British sovereignty but insisted the UK must honour the commitments which Johnson signed up to in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

“On this topic, everyone should return to reason, and my wish is we succeed, collectively, to put in motion what we all decided upon together several months ago,” he said.

“We should do it in all calm and with mutual respect, and I think that polemics every morning are not helpful.”

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The continuing row over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the agreement – intended to protect the peace process by ensuring there is no return to a hard border with the Republic – overshadowed much of the summit.

Johnson repeated his warning that he could unilaterally delay the latest checks on chilled meats moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – due to come into force at the end of the month – unless there was a resolution to the dispute.

The EU has previously said that its patience is wearing “very, very thin” and has threatened to launch a trade war unless the UK abides by its treaty obligations.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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