politics

Joe Biden 'is best tool in EU's armoury' to get Northern Ireland breakthrough


US President Joe Biden is the European Union’s “best tool in the armoury” to get a breakthrough in the row over Northern Ireland, sources believe.

EU diplomats hope the new US President will warn Boris Johnson against breaking his word on post-Brexit border agreements when they hold talks at the G7 summit in Cornwall.

Mr Biden is expected to publicly call for both sides to compromise – but would be making his concerns over peace in the province known privately to the PM.

Brussels has delivered a sharp warning to Mr Johnson that it is ready to act “firmly and resolutely” to ensure the UK abides by its commitments.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the EU would “not be shy” in taking action to ensure that the UK abides by its international commitments.

Ahead of crunch talks in London tomorrow with Brexit minister Lord Frost, he warned that Brussels would not tolerate further failure to comply.



Boris Johnson and President Biden will meet for talks in Cornwall
Boris Johnson and President Biden will meet for talks in Cornwall

The Government has already angered Brussels by unilaterally extending “grace periods” to avoid checks on supermarket goods including British-made sausages.

Nor has No 10 ruled out unilaterally extending a grace period to allow Northern Irish shops to continue selling chilled meats from Britain once it expires at the end of June.

EU sources suggested that if Mr Biden was unable to help get a breakthrough on the thorny issue they could be forced to impose tariffs.

“There isn’t really any other option. We’ve tried the legal route. We’ll try US pressure. But if those don’t work then tariffs may be all we have left,” one diplomat said.

Mr Biden will also make clear that he regards the protocol as a key part of maintaining peace in Northern Ireland – even suggesting a trade deal with the US could be at risk without it.

The post-Brexit deal struck by Mr Johnson has angered unionists, who object to barriers to trade with the British mainland, and fuelled fears over rising sectarian tensions.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan when they met last month.

Mr Biden will travel on to Brussels for talks with EU leaders after the Cornwall summit.

Brussels insiders were downbeat about the chances of a breakthrough at today’s meeting – despite pressure from Northern Ireland retailers to break the impasse.

However, they are expected to offer minor concessions on issues including travelling with guide dogs, repetitive tagging of live animals and rules on steel imports.

Irish PM Micheal Martin warned: “It’s very important that our trust is built up, because otherwise we will have continuing issues and problems.”

However, Environment Secretary George Eustice claimed the EU had been “slow to engage” with efforts to iron out difficulties ahead of the ending of a grace period.

He branded as “bonkers” a situation in which British-made sausages could not be sold in Northern Ireland amid the ongoing row.

Lord Frost has said the Government “underestimated” the impact the NI protocol deal he helped to negotiate would have on the region.

He has called on the EU to reject “legal purism” and instead embrace “pragmatic solutions” to help resolve difficulties.

Mr Johnson spoke on the phone with Brussels chief Ursula Von der Leyen last night.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister set out that the UK is committed to finding practical solutions that protect the aims of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and minimise the impact on the lives of people in Northern Ireland. He underlined the need for quick progress.”





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