Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presidential candidate, warned Downing Street that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US “must be contingent upon respect” for the Good Friday Agreement. He also said there must not be a hard border on the island of Ireland, and claimed the peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic must not “become a casualty of Brexit”. His words following the Government’s confession that the Internal Market Bill — if passed — would break international law by overriding the withdrawal agreement.
The agreement was signed last year by the EU and the UK, and included the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol aimed to prevent a trade border on the island of Ireland arising after Brexit by making sure Northern Ireland still had to follow the EU’s single and custom market rules — while still officially leaving the bloc. The customs border would be down the Irish Sea instead.
Yet, Downing Street has insisted that it is “critical” for there to be “unfettered access” between the four countries of the UK, and implied that Mr Biden did not understand its Brexit proposals when he was criticising the proposed new bill.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the Internal Market Bill was a rebuttal to the EU’s threat to banning the importation of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Democrat Joe Biden, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Joe Biden, former Vice-President, is running to be President in the November US election
Political commentator Cameron Hilditch has pulled apart Mr Biden’s claim, too, and said he was “wrong” to criticise the Internal Market Bill.
Mr Hilditch said: “If [Biden] would care to look more closely at the issues in question, he would learn that the European annexation of Northern Ireland was never necessary in order to preserve peace in Northern Ireland.
“In fact, it amounts to a far more egregious violation of the Good Friday Agreement than the Internal Market Bill.”
Mr Hilditch explained that the EU Parliament itself had published a 2017 study identifying the technology available for frictionless trade on the Irish border.
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Johnson celebrating with the EU after compromising on the withdrawal agreement
He therefore claimed: “The EU’s aggressive stance towards Northern Ireland is not born of any concern to avert the need for border infrastructure. It has always been political.”
The political commentator also suggested that the withdrawal agreement already threatened the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, and then Mr Johnson signed it last year when under pressure and in the hope his Government could change it later.
Indeed, the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to the Troubles in 1998, promised that there would be no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland afterwards.
This means it would always remain part of the UK — a clause Mr Hilditch suggested is violated by the withdrawal agreement.
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How the customs may have worked under the NI Protocol
Boris Johnson is thought to have a good relationship with current President Donald Trump
Writing in the US outlet, National Review, he claimed: “Contrary to what Joe Biden seems to believe, the Good Friday Agreement has already been flagrantly violated by the European Union, with Boris Johnson coming in clutch in an ignominious assist.”
He went on to debunk the Democrats’ approach to the Irish border in general.
He said: “The Democratic Party has always viewed Ireland through the eyes of their Irish American voters, who in turn view their ancestral homeland in an attenuated, folkloric, and often ahistorical way.”
Mr Biden himself has expressed his own pride in his Irish heritage, and has previously suggested he would prioritise Ireland over Britain after Brexit.
The EU has even breached some of its own trade agreements in the past, according to Conservative Home, such as during the eurozone bailouts which were “expressly prohibited” in European treaties, which undermines its threats to take the Government to court over the new bill.
In contrast to Mr Biden’s staunch opposition to Mr Johnson’s bill, the incumbent President Donald Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo sent a very different message to the UK over the Internal Market Bill.
He appeared to support Downing Street, saying he was sure the UK “will get this right in a way that treats everyone fairly”.