US president Joe Biden’s rebuke of the UK over Brexit talks was a call to do the “sensible thing” and resolve trade issues with the EU, the Irish premier has said.
Micheal Martin said Mr Biden has made clear that alignment on standards between the UK and the EU would not negatively impact on a prospective trade deal with the US.
The Taoiseach described as “significant” a planned intervention by Mr Biden, warning Boris Johnson not to let the row over Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangements put the Good Friday Agreement at risk when the pair meet on Thursday.
However the move sparked anger among unionists in Northern Ireland.
DUP leader Edwin Poots told reporters in Belfast on Thursday afternoon that he felt Mr Biden’s comments were “not well informed”.
“We’ve seen riots on the streets in Northern Ireland which we hadn’t seen for many years and I think the President would do well to reflect on what the reality is,” he said.
“The east/west relationship has been harmed, barriers have been put east/west, that is unconstitutional and the issue that regulation is being made on behalf of Northern Ireland in Brussels without representation is something that is against democracy, and the United States of America was always a country which wished to have democracy right around the world, so I would like to think that the United States of America would recognise and respect the democratic rights of people in Northern Ireland to have some say over the people who are making the laws that are actually applied to them.”
Earlier Mr Martin said: “I think it’s significant in the context of the messaging, and the clear message from President Biden and his administration that the sensible thing to do here is to have alignment between the United Kingdom and the European Union and the United States.
“We all share common values of democracies, that’s the clear message I get from President Biden.
“Therefore I think he’s saying to the United Kingdom, look, let’s do the sensible thing here.
“Let’s work out a constructive sustained agreement with the European Union, in respect of Brexit, in respect of the withdrawal agreement and the protocol.”
Mr Martin said an SPS agreement on animal and plant checks could do away with the need for 80% of checks in the Irish Sea, and would not hamper the UK’s ability to strike other trade deals.
He told reporters on Thursday: “I think what was really significant about President Biden’s message, he is saying that if you do an SPS agreement, it will not negatively impact on doing a trade deal with the United States.
“That’s important for the UK.
“I think they would have been genuinely worried about that prospect, that if they had to do to an SPS agreement with Europe, it might potentially impair their capacity to do trade agreements with other countries.
“The USA is saying: ‘No, that’s not the case, you can do an SPS agreement and it will not negatively impact a trade deal with the US’.”
Mr Biden’s close interest in issues affecting Ireland will mean that the dispute over the protocol will feature heavily in discussions with the UK and European Union over the coming days at the G7 conference in Cornwall.
The Times reported that the president, who is intensely proud of his Irish roots, took the extraordinary step of ordering the United States’ most senior diplomat in London, Yael Lempert, to deliver a demarche, a formal protest, in a meeting with Brexit minister Lord Frost on June 3.
Asked if the political pressure applied by Mr Biden would help the situation, Mr Martin replied: “I think the United Kingdom Government respects the US administration.
“I think it’d be a good meeting and I think it will be a constructive meeting.”
The US charge d’affaires indicated that if Mr Johnson accepted demands to follow EU rules on agricultural standards, Mr Biden would ensure that it would not “negatively affect the chances of reaching a US/UK free trade deal”.
Downing Street did not deny the encounter took place.
A No 10 spokesman said: “I don’t think you would expect me to get into discussions with other countries.”
The spokesman added that the Government would continue to seek to work “consensually” with the EU to resolve the impasse.
Talks between Brexit minister Lord Frost and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic on Wednesday failed to make a breakthrough on the protocol.
The EU has threatened to launch a trade war against Britain if it fails to implement checks on goods entering Northern Ireland under the terms of the Brexit “divorce” settlement which Mr Johnson signed.