US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Liz Truss declared themselves staunch allies on Wednesday as they tried to patch up a rift over the impact of Brexit on peace in Northern Ireland.
The leaders met at the United Nations two days after attending Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London, and Britain hopes global goodwill towards the late queen will help smooth over the rift with the US and other allies caused by Britain’s exit from the European Union. union.
The US, in particular, is concerned that Brexit has undermined the foundations of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended 30 years of sectarian violence.
At the end of the 75-minute meeting, Truss’ office said that “the Prime Minister and President Biden agreed that the priority must be to protect the Good Friday Agreement and preserve the peace gains in Northern Ireland.” But there was no sign of agreement on how to do that after the conversation, which one senior US administration official described as “candid”.
Biden has made it clear that achieving the Good Friday Agreement is a matter of bipartisanship in the United States — and a matter of personal importance to him as president, said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Biden, an American of Irish descent, was particularly interested in this issue. He warned that neither side should do anything to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which the US played a key role in negotiating.
There seems little chance that the irritant for the transatlantic relationship will be removed anytime soon. British officials are eyeing April 2023, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, as a potential deadline for reaching a solution for Northern Ireland.
Truss spokesman Max Blaine said Northern Ireland had taken up a small part of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, which was dominated by the war in Ukraine and concerns about China’s growing global influence.
But Northern Ireland was an issue Biden chose to highlight during televised remarks at the start of the meeting, telling Truss: “I look forward to hearing what’s on your mind,” Biden added.
Analysts say there is some concern in the White House that a breach of the Northern Ireland protocol could plunge Europe into trade turmoil at a time when Biden is actively working to keep the West united in confronting Russia over its aggression against Ukraine.
Truss thanked the president and first lady Jill Biden for coming to London for the Queen’s funeral and called the US and Great Britain “strong allies”. But she avoided calling the transatlantic partnership a “special relationship,” eschewing the language used by her predecessors, starting with Winston Churchill.
Biden said that Britain is “our closest ally in the world”.
Truss and Biden refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Britain being the largest military contributor to Ukraine after the US
President Joe Biden spoke on Wednesday about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On China, Trump’s concern about Beijing’s “increasing assertiveness” echoes Biden’s views. And both leaders share concerns that China is outpacing Western democracies in courting developing countries.
The UK government said Truss and Biden “underscored the need to end over-reliance on authoritarian states in terms of our energy, technology and manufacturing supply chains” and pledged to “redouble efforts” to reduce energy dependence on Russia.
But Truss, who took office on September 6, faces Brexit skepticism from many US diplomats and politicians. Truss served as trade secretary and foreign secretary under former prime minister Boris Johnson, a Brexit supporter who plunged relations with the 27 EU countries into a chilly new era.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with an EU member, and Brexit has brought new customs checks and paperwork for Northern Irish trade. The issue has escalated into a political crisis for the power-sharing government in Belfast, with British Unionist politicians refusing to form a government with Irish nationalists because they see the checks as undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
In an effort to break the deadlock, Britain announced it was suspending inspections and tearing up part of the legally binding EU Withdrawal Agreement, a move that angered the bloc and alarmed Washington.
Many pro-Brexit British politicians have promised that any loss in trade with the EU would be easily offset by increased exchanges facilitated by free trade agreements with other countries such as the US
But Truss was forced to admit this week that the long-awaited UK-US free trade deal will not happen “in the short to medium term”, partly because of opposition in the Biden administration and Congress.
Since Johnson announced in July that he would step down, Britain has tried to take the animosity out of the Brexit dispute and softened its language towards the EU. Truss said this week that she “prefers a negotiated settlement”, although she is sticking to her threat to rewrite the Brexit divorce deal.
Truss met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in New York on Wednesday, although there were no signs of a breakthrough.
For more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly