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BORIS JOHNSON 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 Johnson’s first meeting with the president and his hosting of the G7 summit, which begins tomorrow in Carbis Bay.
Following the talks, Johnson said he was “optimistic” the peace process would be kept going.
Asked if 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.”
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.
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.”
The scale of Biden’s unease about the UK’s approach to the Protocol was revealed in a leaked memo which showed the president 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 3 June.
The Times 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’.”
The US charge d’affaires indicated that if Johnson accepted demands to follow EU rules on agricultural standards, 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. A No 10 spokesman said: “I don’t think you would expect me to get into discussions with other countries.”
The spokesman added that the Government would continue to seek to work “consensually” with the EU to resolve the impasse.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has welcomed the intervention of Biden in the row over the North’s Brexit arrangements.
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.
Speaking to reporters this morning at an event in Dublin, Martin said: “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.
“I think he’s saying ‘let’s do the sensible thing here’.”
Talks between Brexit minister David 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 prospect of a “sausage war” trade dispute came after Frost refused to rule out the possibility that the UK could unilaterally delay imposing checks on British-made chilled meats which are due to come into force at the end of the month.
At a press conference in Brussels today ahead of the G7 summit, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen again insisted the Protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.
“We have shown flexibility, we will show flexibility, but the Protocol and the (Brexit) Withdrawal Agreement have to be implemented completely,” she said.
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.
The dispute has inflamed tensions for unionists in Northern Ireland while nationalists oppose a hard border on the island.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president has a “rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland”.
He added: “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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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.
As part of that process, the new Atlantic Charter will commit the UK and US to apply their combined strength to the enormous challenges facing the planet today, including global defence and security, “building back better” from coronavirus, and stopping climate change.
The original Atlantic Charter was a joint statement made by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941, setting out the UK and US goals for the post-Second World War world.
Johnson said co-operation between the UK and US – “the closest of partners and the greatest of allies” – will be crucial “for the future of the world’s stability and prosperity”.
The two leaders have also agreed a new joint task force will examine how to resume travel between the US and UK, which ground to a halt as the pandemic hit.
Includes reporting by Niamh Quinlan and Press Association