Biden administration doesn't want to get 'mixed up' in Brexit over Northern Ireland border row

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Nick Allen
·3 min read
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'There's a considerable Irish American constituency here'
'There's a considerable Irish American constituency here'

Joe Biden doesn't want to get "mixed up" in Brexit over the Northern Ireland border row, an ally of the president has told the Sunday Telegraph,

The source said the new White House administration is monitoring the situation carefully but is loathe to intervene, marking a significant departure from Donald Trump's foreign policy style.

The European Union's recent blunder triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol in a row over vaccines, threatening to effectively create a border on the island of Ireland, set off alarm bells in Washington DC.

There was no public comment on the issue at the time from Mr Biden, who has made statements on the subject in the past and is deeply personally committed to the Good Friday Agreement, or from his administration.

But it was considered the latest in a series of troubling diplomatic faux pas by the EU as the US seeks to rebuild relations.

The Biden source told The Sunday Telegraph: "Whatever the EU or the UK does [in relation to Northern Ireland] the administration wants to tread carefully, wait and see what develops, and not take a hard position. It's a tough one because you have the UK, Ireland and the EU, and you can't win.

"With Biden, though, there is this sense of closeness with Ireland. But his officials never wanted to get mixed up in Brexit, you only get into trouble."

He added: "It is a tightrope for him. Obviously, he wants to have a good relationship with the EU and the UK. At the same time there's a considerable Irish American constituency here. It's a tightrope he could fall off."

Mr Biden has a strong affinity for Ireland due to ancestral ties. In September he warned that the Good Friday Agreement must not be a "casualty of Brexit" and made clear any future UK-US trade deal would depend on that.

Two months later he warned there must be no "guarded border" and that he would "make sure" of it.

A state department official said they were aware of ongoing discussions between the UK and EU and monitoring developments.

Many officials within the Biden administration held trenchant anti-Brexit views in the past.

But the former state department official said: "Something that is coming back is compartmentalising relationships in diplomacy. So you can be strong on one thing without it affecting other parts of the relationship."

That left open many areas for boosting US-UK ties but much would depend on how the relationship between Mr Biden and Boris Johnson worked out, and that was still unknown.

Meanwhile, the EU's actions, not only in relation to the Irish border, turned US officials' attention to them rather than the UK.

A former senior national security official in the Obama administration told The Sunday Telegraph there would be "hard work ahead" in the relationship with the EU.

He said: "There is a lot of emphasis here on establishing a united front of [European] allies towards Russia and China.

"Borrell's visit to Moscow provides yet further evidence of the need for early conversations across the Atlantic on how the US and EU deal with Russia."