Biden meets UK’s Johnson, delivers warning over Northern Ireland
London – United States President Joe Biden brought a grave Brexit warning to his first meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday: Prevent a row with the European Union from imperilling the delicate peace in Northern Ireland.
On his first trip abroad since taking office in January, Biden met Johnson in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay ahead of a Friday to Sunday G7 summit, a NATO summit on Monday, a US-EU summit on Tuesday and a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Geneva the following day.
Biden will try to use the trip to burnish his multilateral credentials after the tumult of Donald Trump’s presidency, which left many US allies in Europe and Asia bewildered and some alienated.
Biden, though, has an uncomfortable message for Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign: Stop heated EU divorce negotiations from undermining a 1998 US-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.
“Any steps that imperil it or undermine it would not be welcomed by the United States,” said Sullivan, who declined to characterise Johnson’s actions as imperilling the peace.
As the two leaders met in Carbis Bay, though, they appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the turquoise waters of the Atlantic with the First Lady, who wore a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”, and Johnson’s new wife, Carrie, who wore a red dress.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” the First Lady said as she looked out across the sea.
Britain’s exit from the European Union strained the peace in Northern Ireland to breaking point because the 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets, yet a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland shares a border with EU member Ireland.
Such is Biden’s concern over Northern Ireland that Yael Lempert, the top US diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Ireland hailed Biden’s intervention while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned Johnson against taking any more unilateral steps to undermine the Brexit deal.
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries that killed 3 600 people.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, will make a statement of principle about the importance of that peace deal, Sullivan said.
“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,” Sullivan said.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal. (Reuters)