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Boris Johnson’s big Biden meeting overshadowed by Brexit issues

The British Prime Minister is expected to welcome US President Joe Biden to Cornwall, England on Thursday for a bilateral meeting where the two are expected to discuss a new “Atlantic Charter” – a modern update of the joint statement between Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the challenges facing the world after WWII.
Biden is in the UK because Johnson is hosting the G7 summit in what was supposed to be Britain’s big comeback on the international stage.
Instead, Thursday’s talks will most likely be overshadowed by heated discussions about the current and very real danger of an outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland, as the real consequences of Brexit continue to undermine the negotiated peace deal. by the United States in 1998.
The Times of London newspaper reported on Wednesday that the top US diplomat in Britain, on orders from Biden, berated Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, for “igniting” tensions on Isle of Man. ‘Ireland.

The report says that in recent days, US envoy Yael Lempert has issued a “demarche” – a diplomatic reprimand that is usually reserved for hostile states rather than allies – on the UK government’s failure to implement a party. of the Brexit agreement negotiated with Brussels. last year which aims to protect peace on the island.

“This is wrong. First, this discussion was not chaired by the president. It was not intensified. As with any ally, we are having diplomatic conversations on areas of concern to us on many levels,” a senior official in the Biden administration told CNN.

But it is well known that Biden is an opponent of any version of Brexit that undermines peace in Ireland, and the president plans to pressure Johnson on the issue during their talks, other senior administration officials have said. .

“President Biden has been very clear about his steadfast belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland. This agreement must be protected, and any action that jeopardizes or undermines it must not. will not be well received by the United States, “Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Europe.

He declined to say whether the United States believes Johnson is taking action to jeopardize the deal.

“I’m only going to say that President Biden is going to make policy statements on this front,” Sullivan said. “He is not issuing threats or ultimatums; he is just going to convey his deep conviction that we must support and protect this protocol.”

The UK government has said it will not comment on the issue until Thursday’s talks. Exceptionally for a meeting between the American and British leaders, there will be no joint press conference afterwards, just a background briefing for journalists and a reading. It is not unlikely that this is due to the fact that it would be impossible to dodge the question of Northern Ireland, creating a difficult diplomatic moment in front of the camera, which the two men prefer to avoid.

The problems that Brexit has created for Northern Ireland are very serious. The British province shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state. The “Northern Ireland Protocol”, which is part of the UK-EU Brexit Agreement, is primarily aimed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It does this by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU customs area and in the single market for goods, which means there is no need to carry out physical checks for goods crossing the border. .

The arrangement created a de facto maritime border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which angered trade unionists in Northern Ireland and Britain. But Johnson has yet to fully implement the protocol, fearing food shortages in Northern Ireland, among others.

The EU rightly points out that this is a violation of the treaty Johnson concluded with Brussels and a violation of international law. In March, the EU launched legal action against the UK over London’s unilateral attempts to extend the Brexit grace period on food imports to Northern Ireland. Talks between Frost and his EU counterpart on how to resolve the protocol impasse did not lead to a solution on Wednesday, and there are no clear signs of a solution anytime soon.

Boris Johnson’s big Biden meeting overshadowed by Brexit issues

In September, before winning the presidency, Biden warned that the Good Friday deal could “not be a victim of Brexit,” and said any trade deal between the UK and the US, presented by many as the most important outcome of leaving the EU, “must be made conditional on respecting the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border.

He doubled down on that position as president-elect in November, saying “the idea of ​​closing the northern and southern border again is just not right.”

Johnson, meanwhile, signaled his willingness to walk away from Brexit, telling Atlantic magazine in an article published this week that he had “sucked that lemon dry.”

While the Prime Minister may instead want to speak this week about the UK’s future as a leader of the international community, he cannot escape the fact that Brexit has fundamentally changed the perception of the UK among its members. allies, and that it will continue to have a real impact both inside and outside the UK for decades to come.

Kevin Liptak contributed reporting.


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