Saturday, 12 Jun 2021

Robert Peston exposes Boris-Biden clash over NI – PM plays down G7 rift

Joe Biden urged to 'talk less and listen more' by US pollster

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The Democratic leader broached the subject when he sat down with the Prime Minister in Cornwall as the UK-EU spat over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol stepped up a notch. The bloc has threatened to slap tariffs on the UK and warned its patience is running “very thin”.

Mr Biden wasted no time in cutting to the chase when he met with Mr Johnson ahead of the G7 summit yesterday.

ITV’s Robert Peston tweeted: “I am told @POTUS did mention his Good Friday Agreement concern in bilat with @BorisJohnson but UK sources insist it was no big thing.

“They expect @vonderleyen to make quite a big thing of it though (well the chilled sausage element) at the press conference on Sunday.”

Following their talks, the leaders released a joint statement saying they had found common ground on “protecting the gains of the peace process” in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.

The statement said Mr Johnson agreed with Mr Biden that both the UK and the EU were responsible for finding “pragmatic solutions” to the deadlock.

The Northern Ireland Protocol aims to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland and is a key part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

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

Many Unionists fear this distances the Six Counties from the rest of the UK and could pave the way for a reunited Ireland.

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 Mr Johnson signed.

This morning Mr Johnson insisted he was not trying to back out of the Brexit deal – and appeared to point the finger of blame at the EU.

He said Brussels is taking an “excessively burdensome” approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

He stressed that the UK’s “internal market” had to be respected and “we just need to make it work”.

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He told the BBC: “You will understand that there are ways of enforcing the protocol, ways of making it work, that may be excessively burdensome.

“I just give you one statistic: 20 percent of the checks conducted across the whole of the perimeter of the EU are now done in Northern Ireland, three times as many as happen in Rotterdam.”

Despite the ongoing spat with the EU over the post-Brexit arrangements, Mr Johnson appeared hopeful of a resolution.

He added: “I think we can sort it out”.

President Biden, who has Irish ancestry, has taken a keen interest in the dispute.

The new president sees his contribution to peace in Northern Ireland as an important aspect of his political legacy.

During the 1980s he was among a group of senators who pushed for greater US diplomatic involvement to end the Troubles.

And while sitting on the Senate foreign relations committee, he was instrumental in pushing the Clinton administration into committing resources and political capital to brokering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The White House has indicated Mr Biden has deep concerns about the situation – and Mr Johnson’s Government’s approach to it.

Following his meeting with Mr Biden yesterday, the Prime Minister played down the prospect of a rift.

He said: “The president didn’t say anything of the kind.

“But what I think you can certainly say … is that everybody – and that includes me, includes our friends in Brussels, it includes Washington – everybody has a massive interest in making sure that we keep the essential symmetry of the Good Friday Agreement, we keep the balance.”

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