Minister rejects Joe Biden’s claim of UK ‘screwing around’ over Northern Ireland

Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak in Belfast on April 12 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak in Belfast on April 12 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A minister has rejected Joe Biden’s claim that he flew to Ireland recently to make sure “the Brits didn’t screw around” following a backlash in the UK.

Mr Biden sparked a transatlantic row on Thursday after he claimed his Ireland trip last month was in part to keep the UK in line amid a Brexit trade row.

Asked if he agreed with Mr Biden’s comments, transport minister Huw Merriman told Times Radio: “No not at all.

“My roots are in Ireland so I certainly would not accept that at all.

Huw Merriman (PA Wire)
Huw Merriman (PA Wire)

“The Windsor Agreement really allows us to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and all that is best.

“He can use his own language but in my view I’m very proud of it (the Windsor Agreement). We have preserved the Good Friday Agreement. We have celebrated the anniversary of it. Northern Ireland has turned a corner.”

On Thursday, the US president travelled to New York for a Democratic National Committee Reception.

While there, he spoke of his trip to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement before he travelled south to his ancestral home.

In quotes released by the White House, Mr Biden, 80, said: “The basic fundamental values that I find is that most ethnic communities are similar.

“And one of the things – I got to go back – not what I had planned on talking about, but I got to go back to Ireland for the – for the – the Irish Accords, to make sure they weren’t – the Brits didn’t screw around and Northern Ireland didn’t walk away from their commitments.”

His comments sparked anger from some quarters in the UK with former Northern Ireland Secretary Shailesh Vara telling The Standard: “This is deeply regrettable that President Biden has to use such language to further his re-election chances in the US.”

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson added: “It’s unbelievable and frightening as well to think this is the man who is the leader of the free world.

“If you believe that there should be a special relationship between the US and UK then at least show us some respect.”

Despite Rishi Sunak signing the breakthrough Windsor Agreement with the EU, power-sharing has not been restored in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sunak had hoped to have Stormont restored in time for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement where the US president spent less than 24 hours north of the border.

Asked whether the US president’s presence in Northern Ireland had been needed to ensure the Brits did not “screw around,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday: “The Windsor Framework was a culmination of substantive work between the UK and the EU and at its heart the UK priority was always protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

“We have been consistent on that point throughout and we are pleased that between the UK and the EU we have been able to reach an agreement which works for the people of Northern Ireland and for the whole UK.”

During his three-day trip to the Republic where he met with Irish premier Leo Varadkar who rejected claims Mr Biden was anti-British.

Mr Biden did make one gaffe though when he mixed up the New Zealand rugby with the Black and Tans - the name for part-time officers recruited to bolster Royal Irish Constabulary numbers, many of whom gained a violent reputation during the Troubles.