Boris Johnson claims there is ‘no alarm’ from US over NI Protocol after Joe Biden talks tough
Boris Johnson last night sought to play down differences with Joe Biden, claiming the new US President was a “breath of fresh air” and insisting there was “absolutely common ground” over Northern Ireland.
The US president’s concerns over the way the UK government is treating the protocol with the European Union which governs post-Brexit arrangements on the island of Ireland threatened to overshadow the first meeting between the two leaders.
Following the talks, Mr Johnson said he was “optimistic” the peace process would be kept going.
Asked if Mr Biden made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland clear, Boris Johnson said: “No, he didn’t.
“What I can say is that America – the United States, Washington – the UK plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do and that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going.
“That’s absolutely common ground and I’m optimistic that we can do that.”
Mr Biden’s first overseas visit has provided the US president with the opportunity to repair some of the international relations damaged by predecessor Donald Trump.
Mr Johnson said: “It’s wonderful to listen to the Biden administration and Joe Biden because there’s so much that they want to do together with us – on security, on Nato, to climate change.
“It’s fantastic, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Mr Johnson did not accept that NI Protocol issues are inflaming tensions.
“As I say there’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and I think what’s interesting is that, you know, Northern Ireland is a fantastic place and it’s got amazing potential and it’s a great, great part of the of the UK,” Mr Johnson said.
“[It has] a great story to tell about its young people, its tech, all the exciting businesses going on there. And what we need to do now is make sure that we get the balance right in the new arrangements we have and I’m sure we can do that.”
Mr Biden said the meeting had been “very productive”.
He told reporters the revitalised Atlantic Charter agreed by the two men would address the “key challenges of this century – cyber security, emerging technologies, global health and climate change”.
Mr Biden said: “We affirmed the special relationship – that is not said lightly – the special relationship between our people and renewed our commitment to defending the enduring democratic values that both our nations share.”
The issue of the NI Protocol had been raised by the US side in advance of the discussions.
The scale of Mr Biden’s unease about the UK’s approach was revealed in a leaked memo which showed the US took the extraordinary step of ordering its most senior diplomat in London, Yael Lempert, to deliver a demarche – a formal protest – in a meeting with Brexit minister Lord Frost.
The Times 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’.”
The US charge d’affaires indicated that if Mr Johnson accepted demands to follow EU rules on agricultural standards, Mr Biden would ensure it would not “negatively affect the chances of reaching a US/UK free trade deal”.
Downing Street did not deny the encounter took place. It said: “I don’t think you would expect me to get into discussions with other countries.”
A No 10 readout following the meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Biden said: “The leaders agreed that both the EU and the UK had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.”
Speaking in NI yesterday Michael Gove said the taoiseach, president and prime minister “are all on the same page, we are all absolutely committed to protecting and upholding the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all of its dimensions”.
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