President Biden has confirmed he plans to visit Northern Ireland in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which U.S. officials helped to broker.
Biden told reporters during a joint press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Point Loma Naval Base in San Diego, California on March 13: “It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic [of Ireland].”
His comments came in response to an invitation from Sunak, who was also in California to discuss the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) Partnership. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia was also in attendance.
Earlier during the press conference, Sunak had told Biden: “It’s a great pleasure to be here and I look forward to our conversations and also importantly, we invite you to Northern Ireland, which hopefully you will be able to do—so we can commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.”
“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We’d love to have you,” Sunak said to Biden.
The two leaders did not provide further details regarding the planned trip, but more information is widely expected to be revealed in the coming days.
Good Friday Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, is a peace agreement signed by the British and Irish governments on April 10, 1998, in order to bring an end to 30 years of violent political conflict in Northern Ireland, also known as “the Troubles”.
British and Irish prime ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern and former U.S. senator George Mitchell (D-Maine) helped reach the agreement, which also established the capital city of Belfast’s current government system that represented both nationalists and unionists.
Biden, who often touts his Irish ancestry, has been a longtime supporter of the peace deal.
However, his visit to Belfast would come at a time when the agreement is being tested following the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020, commonly dubbed “Brexit.”
Under Brexit, special agreements were drawn up for Northern Ireland pertaining to trading arrangements, also known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which would keep Northern Ireland in the European Union’s single market for goods and ensure that a hard border is avoided with the Republic of Ireland.
However, the protocol also created a new trade border between the rest of the U.K. and Northern Ireland in the Irish sea, which could lead to instability.
Biden has previously warned of the critical importance of maintaining peace in Northern Ireland following Brexit.
Windsor Framework Deal
In February, the U.K. and EU agreed to a new Brexit deal called the “Windsor Framework” which aims to fix issues with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Under that agreement, trade barriers will be removed in the Irish Sea, and a two-lane system would be used for goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the U.K.—a green lane for goods that will remain in Northern Ireland and a red lane for goods that will go to the EU, with goods in that lane being subject to checks.
VAT and excise changes will also be applied across the whole of the U.K.
At the time the deal was announced, Biden had called it an “essential step to ensuring that the hard-earned peace and progress of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is preserved and strengthened.”
“I appreciate the efforts of the leaders and officials on all sides who worked tirelessly to find a way forward that protects Northern Ireland’s place within the U.K.’s internal market as well as the EU’s single market, to the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland,” Biden said in a statement.
“Northern Ireland can accomplish the extraordinary when its leaders work together in common cause. And I hope – as we all do – that Northern Ireland’s political institutions are soon back up and running. Those institutions embody the principle of devolved, power-sharing, representative government at the core of the Good Friday Agreement,” the president added.
Biden’s visit to Belfast would mark the first time a U.S. president has traveled to the capital city since 2013, when then-president Barack Obama visited to attend the annual summit of the G8 group of nations.
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