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Johnson and Biden play nice on Brexit at first face-to-face meeting

Published: in European News by .

The UK and the EU have failed to reach agreement on how to implement the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland.

CORNWALL — Brexit rift? What Brexit rift?

Boris Johnson sought to downplay tension with Joe Biden over the U.K.’s decision to delay implementing parts of the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland as the pair met for bilateral talks in Cornwall ahead of the G7 summit.

The U.K. prime minister insisted there was “absolutely common ground” between Washington and London even as Britain remains at loggerheads with the EU over trade arrangements — in particular the Northern Ireland protocol which the U.K. argues is unworkable in full.

Johnson said: “The United States, Washington, the U.K., plus the EU, have one thing we absolutely all want to do which is uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going, and that’s absolutely common ground and I’m optimistic that we can do that.”

Just to make it crystal clear, he added: “The talks were great. They went on for a long time. We covered a huge range of subjects and it’s wonderful to listen to the Biden administration and to Joe Biden because there’s so much they want to do together with us from security, NATO, to climate change.”

Johnson was speaking after the two men met face-to-face for the first time — on the mainland, after they had to abort their trip to the planned backdrop of St Michael’s Mount, an island off the coast near Penzance, due to bad weather.

The U.K. prime minister heaped praise on the U.S. leader as “a breath of fresh air” — a comment his spokesman later said referred to their shared interests, rather than a bid to draw contrast with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

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For his part, the U.S. president said he had a “very productive meeting” with Johnson, adding: “We affirmed the special relationship – that is not said lightly – the special relationship between our people and renewed our commitment to defending the enduring democratic values that both our nations share.” It was recently reported that Johnson dislikes the term “special relationship,” as he believes it makes the UK sound needy.

The encounter was being closely watched for any sign that the U.S. president would communicate his displeasure at the U.K.’s stance on post-Brexit trade arrangements, following a report in The Times that Washington issued London with a highly unusual diplomatic rebuke earlier this month. 

A Downing Street spokesperson said the two leaders “reaffirmed their commitment to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and to protecting the gains of the peace process.” The leaders agreed that both the EU and the U.K. had a responsibility to “find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, the spokesperson added. 

It was clear that every effort had been taken to convey unity between the two camps against the expectation that Biden would take Johnson to task on his first international outing.

‘Complete harmony’

The Northern Ireland protocol, a key part of the deal that established a trade border between Northern Ireland and Britain to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, has become a major point of contention between the U.K. and the EU. 

London and Brussels disagree on the execution of sanitary checks for goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, with the U.K. unilaterally extending grace periods for some checks on certain products for six months.

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Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, warned on Wednesday that the president harbors “very deep” concerns on the issues provoked by Brexit and believes the post-Brexit protocol is “critical” to ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement is protected.

That take was some distance from the words of the prime minister’s spokesman, who said after the bilateral meeting: “There is complete harmony on this issue.”

Despite swerving a feared confrontation on Brexit, there was little comfort for U.K. ministers hoping for hints at progress on a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington.

There was only a vague commitment to push negotiations on a full free trade agreement forward, adding to mounting evidence that talks have been parked since Donald Trump left office. The word used by a government spokesperson Thursday was “progression” towards a deal. But this is a sharp contrast to what the U.K.’s trade department said last year: “The deal is quite well advanced and we’re in a good position to seal what would be the single biggest bilateral trade deal for either country.”

To coincide with the talks, the two leaders released the text of a new “Atlantic charter,” echoing the blueprint for post-war cooperation signed by Winston Churchill (a longstanding hero of Johnson’s) and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. The joint declaration commits the two countries to defending democracy and collective security as well as tackling the threats posed by climate change and misinformation. 

While the talks took place, there was a private meeting between First Lady Jill Biden and Carrie Johnson, followed by a walk along the beach. The president joked in front of journalists that both men had “married above their station.”

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Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnson-joe-biden-northern-ireland-brexit-common-ground/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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