Joe Biden to put pressure on Boris Johnson over NI protocol during meeting

US national security adviser says concern ‘runs very deep’ on Northern Ireland issue

US first lady Jill Biden waves as she sets off with President Joe Biden from the White House on his first overseas trip as president. Photograph: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg

US president Joe Biden will intensify pressure on the British government over the deepening Northern Ireland protocol impasse when he meets with British prime minister Boris Johnson and other global leaders in Cornwall.

In an interview with the BBC ahead of the high-profile visit, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden believes that the Northern Ireland protocol, which was negotiated by the EU and the UK as part of the Brexit agreement, is "critical to ensuring that the spirit, promise and future of the Good Friday agreement is protected".

He said the EU and the UK need to work out the “specifics” and “modalities” and “find some way to proceed that works both for the EU and the UK”. But he added: “whatever way they find to proceed, must, at its core, fundamentally protect the gains of the Good Friday agreement and not imperil that.”

It comes as a meeting between Brexit negotiator David Frost and EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic on the deepening impasse in London ended without a breakthrough.


Trade deal

Mr Sullivan refused to be drawn on whether any move to imperil the peace agreement would threaten a future trade deal between the UK and the United States – a key objective for the Johnson government as it seeks to forge post-Brexit trade deals with non-EU countries.

“I don’t want to sit here today and negotiate in public around linkage or make some claim or threat. I would just say that our concern runs very deep on the Northern Ireland issue.”

Mr Sullivan is one of several senior figures in the Biden administration with a strong interest in Ireland. He accompanied Hillary Clinton during visits to Northern Ireland and was involved with the Washington Ireland Programme, an exchange programme which fosters links between the US and Ireland. He was also one of the signatories to a 2019 letter calling on then prime minister Theresa May to respect the Belfast Agreement.

Mr Biden embarked on Wednesday morning on the first foreign trip of his presidency, leaving Washington for a week-long visit to Europe.

Mr Biden and his wife Jill left Joint Base Andrews and will arrive at the Royal Air Force Mildenhall base in Suffolk later today. They will meet with US air force personnel and their families before travelling to Cornwall ahead of the G7 summit. The president is due to meet Mr Johnson on Thursday ahead of the summit of leaders on Friday.

Following the G7meeting, the president will travel to Brussels for a Nato summit on Monday, followed by an EU-US summit on Tuesday. On the final leg of his trip, he will meet Russian president Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Writing in the Washington Post at the weekend, Mr Biden said that the visit would examine how democracies can come together and deliver “real results for our people in a rapidly changing world” .

“In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realising America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners,” he wrote.

A group of prominent Irish Americans have urged Mr Biden to “stand up for the Good Friday agreement” when he meets Mr Johnson in Cornwall.

"We are increasingly concerned that the GFA is becoming collateral damage as a result of Brexit and the ongoing disputes over the Northern Ireland protocol," said former congressman Jim Walsh, the co-chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement.

The group, which includes several individuals involved in the negotiations around the Belfast Agreement in the 1990s, said American leadership is now needed, noting that “significant gaps” still remain in how the agreement has been implemented practically.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent