Boris Johnson has said the “whole point” of controversial Brexit legislation enabling ministers to break international law is to safeguard the Northern Ireland peace process, as he moved to reassure President-elect Joe Biden.
He made his comments as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also sought to calm fears of the incoming Democratic administration and insisted it was Brussels that was putting at risk the Good Friday Agreement, which ended 30 years of violence.
Mr Biden, who is of Irish ancestry, has been critical of the UK’s plans to override parts of the Brexit divorce agreement in relation to Northern Ireland if no deal is reached with the EU.
The president-elect has previously warned a UK-US trade deal is “contingent” on respect for the peace accord and the prevention of a return to a hard Irish border.
“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Mr Biden said in September.
But Mr Johnson has repeated the purpose of the Internal Market Bill is to “protect and uphold the Good Friday Agreement”.
His comments come as the House of Lords is expected to vote on Monday to strip out the contentious section of the legislation that would allow for parts of the EU withdrawal agreement to be quashed, breaching international law.
Confirming he would press ahead despite the criticism, Mr Johnson said: “The whole point of that bill… is to protect and uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“That is one of the things that we’re united on with our friends in the White House.”
The prime minister also insisted that a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU remains “there to be done”, with negotiations set to resume on Monday.
And he believed there was “a good chance” of the UK securing a trade agreement with the US following Mr Biden’s presidential election win.
However, some have suggested it may be harder to strike a good deal from Mr Biden than it would have been from Mr Trump, who Mr Johnson is seen as being closer to.
The president-elect has previously called Mr Johnson the “physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump”, while leading Democrats have also been critical of the PM, with one branding him a “shapeshifting creep”.
Mr Raab also said he believed the UK would be able to allay US concerns on Northern Ireland.
He told the BBC: “We’ve been very clear we are absolutely committed to respect the Good Friday Agreement but our argument is, and it was good to have the opportunity when I was in Washington to explain, it is the EU who has put pressure on that with the approach it has taken.
“We want to resolve all those issues with the EU – obviously the negotiations are ongoing, there is a good chance of a deal if we get the flexibility from the EU on fisheries and level-playing field.”
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He added: “I’m confident we will navigate all of those issues sensitively, correctly, and, as I said, we listen very carefully to our American friends, particularly on the Hill and in the Irish lobby – they feel very invested in the Good Friday Agreement, we understand that, and I pay tribute to what George Mitchell and Bill Clinton did – but it is not the UK which is putting it at risk, it is the approach of the EU.”
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