Brussels (Brussels Morning) US President Joe Biden has arrived in London, the first stop on his first foreign policy tour since taking office. He will attend a weekend summit of the G7 nations hosted by the UK, a NATO summit on Monday in Brussels, an EU-US summit on Tuesday, and, on Wednesday, he will meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
For today’s meeting with the G7 host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Biden reportedly comes bearing a cautionary message. The US President, Reuters reports, wants London to prevent its dispute with the EU over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit status from jeopardising the delicate peace in the British province.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, emphasised the President’s views on the rising tensions surfacing 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”, Sullivan said.
The 1998 Belfast Good Friday agreement effectively put an end to decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, but one of its key provisions was that no hard border would ever be erected between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, a stipulation that significantly complicated the divorce negotiations between the UK and the EU, of which Ireland remains a member.
A solution negotiated as part of the Brexit agreement – the Northern Ireland Protocol – effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the EU customs market, forcing customs checks to be made in the Irish Sea for goods coming from mainland Britain to the province. This arrangement angered Protestant unionists in Northern Ireland, who feel that the deal is pushing the province closer to unification with Ireland.
Even though Sullivan did not attribute blame for imperilling the peace directly to Johnson, he did note that any steps that imperil or undermine the Good Friday agreement “would not be welcomed by the United States”. The top US diplomat in Britain, Yael Lempert, had previously issued a formal reprimand to London for “inflaming” tensions.