US President speaks out as unionists obsess on protocol

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US President Joe Biden has responded to continuing unionist and British efforts to use Brexit to reinforce the partition of Ireland with a warning that the Good Friday Agreement “cannot change”.

Appearing at the traditional St Patrick’s Day shamrock ceremony in the White House, Mr Biden said the outcome of the peace process must be protected from continued wrangling over post-Brexit arrangements for the north of Ireland.

Speaking about the relationship between the two countries, the US President said: “Our nations both are deeply committed to protecting the hard-won gains of peace in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement has been the foundation of peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland for nearly 25 years. It cannot change.”

In a speech which was well received in Irish American circles, Mr Biden said his administration “look forward to supporting the next Northern Ireland Executive after the upcoming Assembly elections, which are on their way.”

However, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has continued to insist he will not permit a return of power-sharing in Belfast unless his demands for extensive changes to the Protocol are met.

Under the Protocol, goods traded at ports in the north of Ireland are subject to customs and safety checks, which prevents a hard border through Ireland and allows businesses in the Six Counties to have access to both the EU and British markets.

Unionists have sought to use grandstanding opposition to the protocol to fuel their election campaigns, but with little success.

Their efforts to reverse the Protocol suffered a further setback last week when appeals to a ruling against legal challenges to the lawfulness of the Brexit deal were dismissed. The action was pursued in the names of a variety of unionists and far-right British politicians.

Ulster Unionist peer, Reg Empey, a former leader of his party, said the DUP’s position was an “admission of total failure”.

Empey said he was alarmed by Donaldson’s statement that the “only leverage we have is our participation in those institutions – that is the reality, and if we continue to do business as usual we will be taken for granted”.

“We all remember the picture of Sir Jeffrey signing the ‘confidence and supply’ deal which led to the DUP supporting both the Theresa May and Boris Johnson governments,” he said, adding: “If this is all he’s got after 25 years, what does it say about the strategy and tactics that he and his party have adopted?”

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