Biden to press Johnson to resolve dispute with EU over NI Protocol

US president orders officials to rebuke PM’s government for endangering peace process

Joe Biden will press Boris Johnson to resolve Britain’s dispute with the European Union over the Northern Ireland protocol when they meet in Cornwall on Thursday ahead of a summit of G7 leaders.

The meeting comes amid signs that talks between London and Brussels are close to collapse, with the EU warning it will retaliate with trade sanctions if Britain unilaterally breaches the agreement again.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden believed the Protocol was “critical to ensuring that the spirit, promise and future of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement is protected”.

The London Times reported on Wednesday night that Mr Biden ordered US officials in Britain to issue a diplomatic rebuke to Mr Johnson's government for endangering the peace process over Brexit. The paper said that Yael Lempert, America's most senior diplomat in Britain, invited Brexit minister David Frost to a meeting last week at which she accused the government of "inflaming" tensions with its opposition to checks at ports in Northern Ireland.


According to a British government memo of the meeting, Ms Lempert urged Lord Frost to come to a negotiated settlement even if it meant making unpopular compromises.

“Lempert implied that the UK had been inflaming the rhetoric, by asking if we would keep it ‘cool’,” the memo said.

Ms Lempert also suggested that if Britain agreed to follow EU agrifood rules in order to minimise checks under the protocol, Mr Biden would ensure this “wouldn’t negatively affect the chances of reaching a US/UK free trade deal”.

The paper reports that Lord Frost rebuffed Ms Lempert and suggested that Mr Biden should tell the EU to pursue a “less purist” approach to implementing the Protocol.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said he told Lord Frost at a meeting in London on Wednesday that a unilateral extension by the UK at the end of this month of grace periods for checks on some goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland could provoke retaliatory action.

“If the UK were to take further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by the international law obligations,” Mr Sefcovic told a press conference following a meeting of the joint committee that governs the implementation of the Protocol.

He said retaliatory action could include the suspension of parts of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) that offers British goods tariff-free and quota-free access to the EU market.

Lord Frost said the latest meeting had not produced either a breakthrough or a breakdown in negotiations about implementing the Protocol and he said Britain would consider “all options” if the EU did not agree to bend the rules for the Protocol further.

“The problem we’ve got is the Protocol is being implemented in a way which is causing disruption in Northern Ireland and we had some pretty frank and honest discussions about that situation today,” he said.

Mr Sefcovic dismissed a report that checks could be imposed on goods entering the rest of the EU from Ireland if Britain refused to implement the Irish Sea border required by the Protocol.

“We have always shown solidarity with Ireland, and we will continue to stand by Ireland, which is the member state most affected by Brexit. This is a matter between the EU and the UK, not between the EU and Ireland. We have always said the EU’s objective is to preserve the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, as well as the integrity of the single market, including Ireland’s place in it,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times