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Biden challenge to Johnson over Northern Ireland Brexit dispute welcomed by Taoiseach

US President Joe Biden will use his first overseas visit to hold talks with Boris Johnson.

President Joe Biden listens as first lady Jill Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.
President Joe Biden listens as first lady Jill Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.
Image: Patrick Semansky

Updated Jun 10th 2021, 12:50 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS welcomed the intervention of US President Joe Biden in the row over Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangements.

Joe Biden is expected to tell UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to let the row put the Good Friday Agreement at risk when the pair meet today.

In the US president’s first overseas visit, aides said he will stress the need to “stand behind” the Northern Ireland Protocol, the element of the Brexit deal which has triggered a UK-EU dispute.

Speaking today on Newstalk Breakfast, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that “the intervention from Joe Biden is significant – but it makes sense from the American perspective”. He also said, from his perspective, the US intervention involves a lot of common sense.

The Taoiseach this morning said it’s important for countries with similar values to be aligned and so the EU-US relationship is very important regarding restoring that transatlantic relationship. However, the UK need to also be aligned in that restoration.  

Biden is in the UK to attend the G7 summit, set to begin tomorrow in Cornwall. However, the Northern Ireland protocol issue is threatening to overshadow the Biden’s first meeting with the British Prime Minister and possibly Johnson’s hosting of the summit as well.

“I think it is significant in the context of the message from President Biden and his administration that the sensible thing to do is to have alignment between the UK and the EU and the US – we all share common values as democracies,” the Taoiseach said to reporters this morning at an event in Dublin. 

“I think he’s saying ‘let’s do the sensible thing here’.”

Also speaking today, at Dublin’s RDS, Minster for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, said the US sees itself as “an international guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, and the peace process in Northern Ireland”.

“President Biden himself is personally interested in follows closely the twists and turns of of politics in Northern Ireland,” he said. He says he expects US guidance to continue from Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Aside from Brexit, Johnson and Biden will work on efforts to resume transatlantic travel and agree a new Atlantic Charter paving the way for co-operation on challenges including climate change and security.

But Biden’s close interest in issues affecting Ireland will mean that the dispute over the protocol will feature heavily in discussions with the UK and European Union over the coming days of intense diplomatic activity in Cornwall.

The London Times reported today that Biden took the extraordinary step of ordering the United States’ most senior diplomat in London, Yael Lempert, to deliver a demarche – a formal protest – in a meeting with Brexit minister David Frost on June 3. 

The newspaper reported that Government minutes of the meeting said: “Lempert implied that the UK had been inflaming the rhetoric, by asking if he would keep it ‘cool’.”

Today, top European Union officials have vowed to use all available measures to ensure the UK respects the terms of its Brexit agreement.

“It is paramount to implement what we have decided. This is a question of rule of law,” European Council President Charles Michel said.

“We will use all the tools we have in order to make sure that we defend our interests and to protect the integrity of the single market.”

Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are set to hold talks with Johnson at the sidelines of the G7 summit, in an effort to diffuse the row.

Talks between Brexit minister Frost and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic yesterday failed to make a breakthrough on the protocol.

The EU has threatened to launch a trade war against Britain if it fails to implement checks on goods entering Northern Ireland under the terms of the Brexit divorce settlement which Johnson signed.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market for goods in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One:

“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland.

“That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States.”

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Asked whether Johnson’s stance was imperiling the peace deal, Sullivan said:

“I’m not going to characterise that at this point.  I’m only going to say that President Biden is going to make statements in principle on this front.

“He’s not issuing threats or ultimatums; he’s going to simply convey his deep-seated belief that we need to stand behind and protect this protocol.”

Boris Johnson told reporters yesterday that resolving the dispute with Brussels was “easily doable” and “what we want to do is make sure that we can have a solution that guarantees the peace process, protects the peace process, but also guarantees the economic and territorial integrity of the whole United Kingdom”.

The meeting of the two leaders comes on the eve of the G7 summit which will bring together the world’s wealthiest democracies at a time when the West faces difficult judgments in responding to the rise of China as an economic and political force and the destabilising actions of Russia.

With additional reporting from Rónán Duffy and Press Association.

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