By David Young and Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Joe Biden has given Boris Johnson a “timely reminder” that he would risk any future US trade deal if he ditches Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, a Sinn Fein minister has said.
Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy said that was his interpretation of remarks made by the US President as he met Mr Johnson in the White House and expressed concern at any moves to create a “closed border” on the island of Ireland.
The protocol was agreed by the EU and UK as way to avoid trade barriers on the island.
It achieves that by moving regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea – an arrangement that has caused disruption to GB to NI trade and created anger among unionists in Northern Ireland.
DUP First Minister Paul Givan offered a different reaction to the President’s comments, suggesting that it was the protocol that had “trashed” the terms of the Good Friday Agreement by creating east west barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Both ministers were at the Balmoral agriculture show near Lisburn on Wednesday.
Mr Murphy said: “If Boris Johnson is looking at trade arrangements for the United States it is on the basis that they (the UK Government) are not damaging the Good Friday Agreement or any of the arrangements that flow from the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
US President - Joe Biden
“So, I think it was a timely reminder for the British Prime Minister exactly where he fits in overall politics and the extent of support in the American administration, in Europe, across this island… for the Good Friday Agreement arrangements to be able to be protected.
“I hope that the British Prime Minister got that message and that he goes back and has a proper negotiation with the EU, that they resolve the issues of the protocol and we get on with actually taking advantage of the position that we have.”
The Sinn Fein minister said talk of the UK unilaterally suspending part of the Northern Ireland Protocol was a “distraction”.
“What they (UK Government) really need to do is sit around the table with the EU and negotiate this out sensibly,” he said.
“The grandstanding both by the British government and by unionist parties here is a complete distraction for what needs to be done.”
Stormont First Minister Paul Givan has warned that the Northern Ireland Protocol has “trashed” the Good Friday peace agreement.
Mr Givan, who accompanied DUP colleague and Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots on a visit to the first day of the show, was also asked about the President Biden’s comments.
“We’re all very much committed to making sure that the peace accords, as he referred to them as, are respected,” he said.
“The Good Friday Agreement as a result of the protocol has been trashed and therefore that needs to be put right.
“So, I know in my engagements with the new United States Consul General (Paul Narain) here in Northern Ireland, they recognise the very real issues that the DUP has been presenting and the need for a solution to be found that respects our constitutional status as an integral part of the United Kingdom and delivers a practical solution so that we have that unfettered trade east-west, and indeed north-south.”
Stormont First Minister Paul Givan
Mr Poots suggested the US administration had not read the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, in particular the elements around protecting and developing east west relations.
He said Washington was not the decision-maker when it comes to the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“There’s no surprise, the Biden administration have been saying this from the outset,” Mr Poots told BBC Radio Ulster.
“As far as we’re concerned, I think they need to actually understand what the Belfast Agreement actually does say and go and read it.
“If they do that, they will recognise that the Northern Ireland Protocol is actually damaging to the Belfast Agreement.
“It is creating a border where there shouldn’t be one and therefore the protocol has to go in order to meet the requirements of the Belfast Agreement.”
Mr Poots added: “Washington aren’t the decision-makers here. The UK Government will ultimately be the decision-maker.
“They’re in negotiations with the EU at the minute – if those negotiations don’t yield considerable fruit, then it is for the UK Government to make the ultimate decision, which is that they step back from the Northern Ireland Protocol.”