Tory MPs reacted with fury today after US presidential challenger Joe Biden waded into the Brexit row over Boris Johnson’s attempt to undo part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
In his first direct intervention on the matter the Democrat frontrunner warned that the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland cannot become a ‘casualty’ of the UK’s split from the EU.
His comments came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was in Washington to meet politicians threatening to block a UK-US trade deal if Mr Johnson breaks international law.
The Prime Minister wants to introduce measures in new British legislation that would allow ministers to unpick part of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed last year relating to Northern Ireland’s status after the end of the year.
Mr Biden last night tweeted: ‘We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
‘Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.’
But this prompted fury from Brexiteer Tory backbenchers, with US-born MP Joy Morrissey accusing him of chasing ‘the Irish-American vote’ ahead of the November election.
And former minister Conor Burns, a close friend and suppoter of the PM, added: ‘Hey Joe Biden, would you like to discuss the Good Friday agreement? It is also called the Belfast Agreement so it doesn’t offend both traditions. Did you actually know that? I was born in NI and I’m a Catholic and a Unionist. Here if you need help.’
US presidential candidate Joe Biden (pictured last night in Wilmington, Delaware) says the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland cannot become a ‘casualty’ of Brexit
This prompted fury from Brexiteer Tory backbenchers, with US-born MP Joy Morrissey accusing him of chasing ‘the Irish-American vote’ ahead of the November election, while Conor Burns also waded in
Mr Biden, who has previously talked about the importance of his Irish heritage, retweeted a letter from Eliot Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, to Mr Johnson calling on the British leader to honour the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.
Engel urged Johnson to ‘abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement.’
He called on Johnson to ‘ensure that Brexit negotiations do not undermine the decades of progress to bring peace to Northern Ireland and future options for the bilateral relationship between our two countries.’
Engel said Congress would not support a free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom if Britain failed to uphold its commitments with Northern Ireland.
The letter was signed by Representatives Richard Neal, William Keating and Peter King.
The intervention by the Democratic Party nominee last night came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces concerted opposition to Government moves that would override the divorce deal with Brussels regarding trade with Northern Ireland.
The Government will table an amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill, giving MPs a vote before it can use powers which would breach the deal brokered with Brussels last year.
Around 30 Tory rebels were thought to be preparing to vote for an amendment on Tuesday which would have required a Commons vote before the provisions in the Bill relating to Northern Ireland could come into force.
Downing Street relented and announced in a joint statement with Conservative MPs Sir Bob Neill and Damian Green that it would seek to amend the Bill to require the Commons to vote before a minister can use the powers contained within it.
Mr Biden’s comments echoed those of Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
Before of a meeting with Ms Pelosi, Mr Raab accused Brussels of the ‘politicisation’ of Northern Ireland issues in the context of Brexit trade talks.
He said the EU stance threatened the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Raab said he had made clear the UK has an ‘absolute’ commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Biden, who has previously talked about the importance of his Irish heritage, retweeted a letter from Eliot Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, to Mr Johnson calling on the British leader to honour the 1998 Good Friday peace deal
Labour shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy also jumped on Mr Biden’s words
‘The UK action here is defensive in relation to what the EU is doing, it is precautionary, we haven’t done any of this yet, and it is proportionate,’ he said.
‘What we cannot have is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain.’
He was earlier backed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who rallied behind Boris Johnson’s Government.
Donald Trump’s senior lieutenant said he trusted the PM and his administration to ‘get it right’ when asked about his proposals to override the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK Internal Market Bill.
‘Yes we trust the United Kingdom. I am confident they will get it right,’ he told a press conference.
Ms Pelosi has warned Congress would never pass a free trade agreement with the UK if legislation to override the Brexit divorce settlement was to ‘imperil’ the peace process.
Labour shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy also jumped on Mr Biden’s words, saying: ‘This shows the scale of the damage the Government have done to Britain’s standing in the world.
‘They’ve lost trust and undermined co-operation at the moment we most need it – and all to tear up an agreement they negotiated. Reckless, incompetent and utterly self-defeating.’
Meeting Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Washington, Mr Pompeo said he still trusted the UK to act properl
Mr Johnson risked further conflict with the EU today when he said Brussels was not acting in good faith.
He told the Sun: ‘We assumed our EU friends and partners would want to negotiate in good faith. We’ve been paid up members for 45 years.’
The Government’s top law officer for Scotland resigned on Wednesday amid reports he was unhappy about the plans to override the Withdrawal Agreement.
Lord Keen of Elie QC, the Advocate General, said in his resignation letter: ‘Over the past week I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a Law Officer with your policy intentions with respect to the UKIM Bill.
‘I have endeavoured to identify a respectable argument for the provisions at clauses 42 to 45 of the Bill but it is now clear that this will not meet your policy intentions.
Labour’s shadow attorney general Lord Falconer said: ‘This has been a week of chaos from the Government’s own law officers, whose legal advice has been renounced by its own Government and the voice of the law officers has been muted, and their authority is completely shot.’