Owen Polley: Britain should stand up without fear to President Joe Biden over Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson will have mixed feelings about his first visit to Washington DC as prime minister.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 1:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 2:59 pm
On September 21 President Joe Biden at the White House again lectured Boris Johnson about Northern Ireland. He rambled on about the importance of ‘protocols’ with a notable lack of precision. Yet there are tawdry links between Biden, his Irish American friends, Sinn Fein and violent republicanism

He relished the opportunity to showcase the UK’s new security arrangements with the US and Australia, particularly against the backdrop of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, throwing a fearful tantrum in Paris.

On the other hand, Johnson admitted that an early free trade deal with America is increasingly unlikely.

Indeed, the announcement of a trifling victory, like the end to a ban on British lamb in the states, showed just how arbitrary and one-sided the White House’s attitude to its allies can be.

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Perhaps most gallingly, President Biden lectured the prime minister again about peace in Northern Ireland. He rambled on about the importance of “protocols” and “accords” with a notable lack of precision.

Indeed, Johnson seemed to help the president out, by launching into a more coherent defence of the peace process.

It’s no wonder that Biden struggled to use the right terms. His information comes directly from the Dublin government and Irish nationalists.

They’ve distorted the Belfast Agreement so much over the years, adding imaginary content and exaggerating its effects, that it’s doubtful whether they remember what it really contained in the first place.

It scarcely matters whether Biden, his aged sidekick Nancy Pelosi or a coterie of Provo-friendly congressmen and senators have read and understood the agreement. Their interventions on these issues were never credible or impartial.

If the government has any pride and gumption, it will ignore them and preferably put them back in their place.

The message should be: we can be friends and allies, but don’t try to undermine Britain’s authority in an integral part of its national territory, because we can and will expose Irish America’s lies.

To coincide with Johnson’s visit, Congressman Richard Neal, who chairs a congressional committee that approves US trade agreements, demanded that the UK resolve its dispute with the EU in a way that offers “no threat to the success of the Good Friday Agreement”.

This sermon came from a man who delivered a eulogy for Martin McGuinness at a memorial mass, invited Gerry Adams to Barack Obama’s inauguration and defended the Sinn Fein leader after he was arrested in connection with Jean McConville’s murder.

Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has repeatedly threatened to block a US-UK trade deal if Irish nationalists do not get their way on the Protocol.

When she met Johnson last week, she released another statement pledging to protect the “Good Friday accords”, as if she is their guarantor and the prime minister is a threat. You may remember that, when she visited Ireland in 2019, she astonished observers by hugging Gerry Adams warmly and tousling his beard.

Biden, who once made the hilarious jape “if you’re orange you’re not welcome here” at a St Patrick’s Day reception, is not without his own connections to Adams.

He was photographed with the Sinn Fein godfather as recently as 2017, apparently after discussing the prospects of a “united Ireland”. In the snap, the now US President, with his trademark rictus grin, has his arm around Rita O’Hare, an IRA fugitive who skipped bail in 1972, after being arrested for trying to murder an army officer.

We could go on all day sketching the tawdry links between Biden, his Irish American friends, Sinn Fein and violent republicanism.

They are relevant because the current US administration believes its role in the row about the protocol is to support the Republic of Ireland and its ridiculous claim that the sea border is required to protect the Belfast Agreement.

Of course, you will never hear them cite the principle of consent, or indeed make much reference to any of the actual text of the document. That’s because their claims are underpinned by dubious allusions to the agreement’s ‘spirit’ or ‘context’.

Their arguments are driven unashamedly by the assumption that Northern Ireland’s links with Great Britain must be eroded in preparation for its absorption by the Irish republic.

British leaders have in the past been too inclined to be fawning and weak in their dealings with US presidents. The prospects of a quick trade deal are already vanishingly remote.

In these circumstances, there is every opportunity to offer a robust defence of Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, the principle of consent and the east-west dimensions that were supposed to form an important strand of the Belfast Agreement.

The debacle in Afghanistan has created widespread scepticism about Biden’s leadership, in Britain. We know, as well, that the US is likely to exact punishing terms, if a free trade deal is ever reached.

There is little point asserting the UK’s independence from the EU, only to accept American dominance over our economy.

There is a long history of politicians in Washington DC showboating to Irish America, with all the kitsch romantic nationalism that entails. Britain should not take the empty threats and blatant distortions too seriously, but instead stand up for itself and Northern Ireland without fear or equivocation.

• Other articles by Owen Polley below, beneath that information on how to subscribe:

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