Joe Biden is gearing up for a major Brexit intervention as the US is set to appoint a Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. This comes as the US is understood to be seeking a bigger role in the issue, which has been a major point of contention since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. The job has been vacant since Mick Mulvaney left the position at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency in January 2021.
Sources told Bloomberg, the Biden administration is close to making a decision on Mr Mulvaney’s replacement.
One source told the outlet the US Government told the UK and EU it is keen to help broker a deal over the hated Northern Ireland Protocol.
But another source said the envoy’s focus will be on economic development and not Brexit.
Mr Biden has typically supported the EU’s position in the dispute, warning the UK against efforts to undermine the legislation.
A fortnight ago, the US President intervened and urged Mr Sunak to sort out the post-Brexit row in Northern Ireland, as Downing Street admitted Mr Biden had raised “concerns” about the political impasse with the EU when the political leaders met at the G20 in Indonesia.
There has been no functioning Government in Stormont since the elections last May, as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to restore powersharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.
An election was triggered in Stormont in October after the executive was blocked from meeting due to the DUP’s protest over the protocol.
Speaking to Express.co.uk after Mr Sunak’s bilateral meeting with Mr Biden, Darren Spinck, Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, said the US President has “scant interest in increasing overall US-UK commercial ties”, noting “there was no substantive discussion on advancing a free trade agreement” at the two leaders’ last meeting.
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The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Previously, the Biden administration warned Liz Truss’ Government against “efforts to undo” the protocol.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in the US: “There’s no formal linkage on trade talks between the US and the UK and the Northern Ireland protocol, as we have said, but efforts to undo the Northern Ireland protocol would not create a conducive environment, and that’s basically where we are in the dialogue.”
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In order to mitigate the chaos in Northern Ireland caused by the protocol, MPs last week voted to extend the deadline for an assembly to be formed.
The Executive Formation Bill was introduced by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris in November.
If the DUP does not end its boycott of the Stormont assembly by December 8, the bill will give Mr Heaton-Harris the option to either call an election or extend the deadline by six weeks to 19 January.
There has been no functioning government in Stormont since the elections last May, as the DUP has refused to restore powersharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.
As MPs considered the measures, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “At a time when taxpayers’ money, and indeed taxpayers themselves, are under enormous strain, it’s simply not acceptable that MLAs continue to draw a full salary whilst unable to conduct the full range of functions for which they were elected.
“These clauses will therefore allow me to amend MLAs’ pay in this and any future periods of inactivity, drawing on sections 47 and 48 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”
But DUP MP Sammy Wilson previously told Express.co.uk that the Northern Ireland Secretay “has to be very very clear in his mind that we see this as a fight for the union”.
He warned that the DUP is “not going to accept some tawdry compromise on something that doesn’t deliver.”