UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss declared themselves staunch allies Wednesday as they tried to patch up a divide over Brexit’s impact on peace in Northern Ireland.
The leaders met at the United Nations two days after they attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London, and Britain hopes the global goodwill toward the late queen will help smooth out bumps in relations with the U.S. and other allies caused by the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.
The U.S., in particular, is concerned that Brexit has rattled the foundations of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that ended 30 years of sectarian violence.
“We are both committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement of Northern Ireland, and I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind,” Biden said at the start of the meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Truss said she was “looking forward to discussing the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and how we make sure that’s upheld into the future.”
Truss thanked the president and First Lady Jill Biden for coming to London for the queen’s funeral, and described the United States and Britain as “steadfast allies.” But she avoided referring to the trans-Atlantic partnership as a “special relationship,” shying away from the language her predecessors dating back to Winston Churchill have used.
Biden said Britain was “our closest ally in the world.”
Truss and Biden see eye to eye on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Britain the biggest military contributor to Ukraine after the U.S.
On China, Truss’ concerns about Beijing’s “growing assertiveness” echo Biden’s views. And the two leaders share a concern that China is outflanking Western democracies in wooing the developing world.
But Truss, who took office Sept. 6, faces skepticism from many U.S. diplomats and politicians over Brexit. Truss served as trade minister and foreign secretary under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Brexit champion who plunged relations with the 27-nation EU 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 Ireland trade. The issue has spiraled 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.
Seeking to break the impasse, Britain has announced legislation to suspend the checks and rip up part of its legally binding Brexit treaty with the EU — a move that angered the bloc and alarmed Washington. Biden has warned that no side should do anything to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which the U.S. played a key role in negotiating.
The proudly Irish-American Biden has taken a particular interest in the issue.
Many pro-Brexit British politicians had promised any loss of trade with the EU would be easily replaced with increased exchanges fostered by free trade agreements with other countries, such as the U.S.
But Truss was forced to admit this week that a long-sought U.K.-U.S. free trade deal would not happen “in the short to medium term,” partially because of opposition in the Biden administration and Congress,
“We’re not currently negotiating a trade deal with the U.S. – the U.S. isn’t negotiating a trade deal with anyone at the moment – but we are open to negotiating a trade deal when the administration decide that’s what they want to do,” Truss said at a meeting with business leaders in New York on Wednesday.
For more AP coverage of the U.N. General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly
Aamer Madhani And Jill Lawless, The Associated Press