Disassociating Himself from Trump, US President Antagonizes Brexit Camp
“Being Irish is something that has marked me all my life.”* Those were the words of current U.S. President Joe Biden, as he bid farewell to the office of vice president back in 2016 and prepared for the culmination of his eight-year term: a six-day trip to Ireland, including visits to the places from which his ancestors set off.
Those roots, inextricable from his deep Catholicism, have forever marked a person who is now using his position as the most powerful man on the planet to warn Brexit leaders that he will not allow peace in Northern Ireland to be jeopardized by border and trade issues. After years of Donald Trump’s harsh admonitions, Brussels could have no better ally than the current occupant of the White House. In fact, according to the census, there are 35 million Americans of Irish descent, a group with undoubted influence. There have been several presidents with ancestors from Ireland: John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to hold the office; Ronald Reagan; Bill Clinton; and Barack Obama. Biden, however, is the only one with Irish ancestry in both father and mother; having done his genealogical calculations, he has described himself as “60% Irish.”*
Putting Transatlantic Relations Back on Track
According to the White House, one of Biden’s tasks during his trip is to prevent post-Brexit negotiations from damaging the Good Friday peace agreement that ended three decades of war in Northern Ireland. That pact is now in doubt because of trade and customs disagreements between London and Brussels following the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.
Biden is putting transatlantic relations back on track after four years of Trump (who is of German and Scottish descent). Trump supported Brexit and unusually distanced himself from the EU with harsh tariffs and threats of disinvestment and break-up. In Europe, Biden has already met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and will soon meet with other EU and NATO leaders ahead of a face-to-face with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Switzerland.
However, Biden’s landing in the U.K. is the current president’s first foreign visit, with Ireland and its peace agreement at the forefront. Beforehand, Biden’s underlings had already laid the groundwork. In a preparatory meeting, Yael Lempert, currently the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, told Lord Frost, the minister responsible for Brexit, that his government is “inflaming tensions” in Ireland and Europe with its opposition to controls on Northern Irish ports, the British press revealed yesterday. This, Lempert said, would not be tolerated by Biden.
The Brexit camp on Thursday was understandably outraged and at the same time fearful that the “special relationship” between London and Washington was in jeopardy. Someone on the Conservative bench even told Politico magazine that Biden is “senile,” without daring to give his name, of course. These warnings from the U.S., however, should surprise nobody. Biden makes no secret of his sympathies. Days after winning last year’s election, a reporter approached him and told him that she worked for the BBC, the British public broadcaster. “The BBC?” said Biden. “I’m Irish.”*
*Editor’s Note: These quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified.