Biden and Johnson reaffirm commitment to Belfast Agreement
Cornwall meeting ahead of G7 summit takes place in wake of US diplomatic rebuke
Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have reaffirmed their commitment to the Belfast Agreement after they avoided a public confrontation over the Northern Ireland protocol.
But their meeting in Cornwall ahead of a G7 summit was overshadowed by news that Washington issued an official diplomatic rebuke to the British government over its handling of the protocol.
The White House and Downing Street both sought to play down the démarche issued by the top United States diplomat in Britain to Brexit minister David Frost but neither side denied the story first reported by the London Times.
“As with any ally we have diplomatic conversations about areas where we have concern at many levels,” a senior US official told reporters.
Mr Johnson said the US president did not express concern over Britain’s unilateral actions over the protocol and his failure to negotiate agreed solutions to its difficulties with the European Union.
“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 Northern Ireland is a fantastic place and it’s got amazing potential. It is a great, great part of the UK,” he said.
“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 is absolutely common ground.”
Despite Thursday’s show of harmony, there is growing alarm in Irish Government circles that a further deterioration in relations between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol is inevitable, with potentially destabilising effects on the North.
The European commissioner who is dealing with the British government, Maros Sefcovic, told EU governments that the bloc was conscious of the marching season in the North and would make offers of some concessions to the UK in the ongoing talks, including an offer of independent arbitration, rather than referring disputes to the European Court of Justice, according to a person briefed on the exchange.
However, Mr Sefcovic also told governments that the EU was preparing “retaliatory measures” should the UK proceed with further unilateral extensions of interim arrangements on July 1st.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on Thursday night there was scope for compromise within the parameters of the protocol.
“Maybe the EU does need to show flexibility and pragmatism. But the UK also needs to be serious about implementing a deal that they signed up to,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ Prime Time.
In their joint statement, Mr Biden and Mr Johnson stressed the role of the United States alongside Britain and Ireland in working with people in Northern Ireland to negotiate the Belfast Agreement.
They noted the three dimensions of the agreement, which established North-South and British-Irish structures alongside power-sharing within Northern Ireland.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel will take part in the G7 summit from Friday, along with three EU heads of government: Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi.
Ms von der Leyen repeated the EU’s warning to Britain against further unilateral action on the protocol and Mr Michel said the EU was ready to “use all the tools we have in order to make sure that we defend our interest, that we protect the integrity of the single market, and that we guarantee the level playing field”.
Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin welcomed the reported US diplomatic intervention with Britain over the protocol, characterising it as a request to do the right thing.
He noted that the report of the meeting with Lord Frost said the US chargé d’affaires, Yael Lampert, suggested that if Britain agreed a Swiss-style veterinary agreement with the EU, it would not be an impediment to a trade deal with the US. Such an agreement was “a logical common-sense approach”, Mr Martin said.