Edwin Poots: Joe Biden is not the decision-maker on future of Northern Ireland Protocol

Mr Poots answered questions at Stormont about the Northern Ireland Protocol and his party’s decision to withdraw from north/south political bodies. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Mr Poots answered questions at Stormont about the Northern Ireland Protocol and his party’s decision to withdraw from north/south political bodies. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said Washington is not the decision-maker when it comes to the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

DUP minister Mr Poots questioned whether the US administration had read the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and said if they did they would appreciate that the protocol was undermining a key plank of the accord – east/west relations.

“There’s no surprise, the Biden administration have been saying this from the outset,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“As far as we’re concerned, I think they need to actually understand what the Belfast Agreement actually does say and go and read it.

“If they do that, they will recognise that the Northern Ireland Protocol is actually damaging to the Belfast Agreement.

“It is creating a border where there shouldn’t be one and therefore the protocol has to go in order to meet the requirements of the Belfast Agreement.”

Mr Poots added: “Washington aren’t the decision-makers here. The UK Government will ultimately be the decision-maker.

“They’re in negotiations with the EU at the minute – if those negotiations don’t yield considerable fruit, then it is for the UK Government to make the ultimate decision, which is that they step back from the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Stormont First Minister Paul Givan warned that the Northern Ireland Protocol has “trashed” the Good Friday peace agreement.

Responding to President Biden’s remark cautioning against any changes to the Brexit trading arrangements, Mr Givan said: “We’re all very much committed to making sure that the peace accords, as he (President Biden) referred to them as, are respected.

“The Good Friday Agreement as a result of the protocol has been trashed and therefore that needs to be put right.

“So, I know in my engagements with the new United States Consul General (Paul Narain) here in Northern Ireland, they recognise the very real issues that the DUP has been presenting and the need for a solution to be found that respects our constitutional status as an integral part of the United Kingdom and delivers a practical solution so that we have that unfettered trade east-west, and indeed north-south.”

First minister Paul Givan. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
First minister Paul Givan. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Boris Johnson met with US president Joe Biden at the White House earlier today.

President Biden said he felt “very strongly” that he does not want a change to the “Irish accords” resulting in “a closed border”.

Asked about a UK-US trade deal, the US president told reporters in the Oval Office: “To do with the UK, that’s continuing to be discussed.

“But on the (Northern Ireland) protocols I feel very strongly on those. We spent an enormous amount of time and effort, the United States, it was a major bipartisan effort made.

“And I would not at all like to see, nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland.”

Mr Poots said the European Union needed to appreciate that most products moving between GB and NI were not at risk of entering the single market.

Speaking at the Balmoral agricultural show near Lisburn, Stormont’s Agriculture Minister said: “We need the European Union to recognise the things that don’t damage the single market – that is food consumed in Northern Ireland, animals that are moving back and forward, plants that are coming into Northern Ireland.

“Those things that remain in Northern Ireland do not affect the single market.

“So, if you actually deal with that, you will deal with most of the issues around the protocol.

“The protocol is damaging because it creates a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and almost 70% of our goods that we import come from Great Britain, that is the impact that is having by creating those barriers.”

Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy said Joe Biden had given Boris Johnson a "timely reminder" that the US will not countenance a trade deal if the UK ditches arrangements designed to prevent Brexit trade barriers on the island of Ireland.

"If Boris Johnson is looking at trade arrangements for the United States it is on the basis that they (the UK Government) are not damaging the Good Friday Agreement or any of the arrangements that flow from the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"So, I think it was a timely reminder for the British Prime Minister exactly where he fits in overall politics and the extent of support in the American administration, in Europe, across this island ... for the Good Friday Agreement arrangements to be able to be protected.

"I hope that the British Prime Minister got that message and that he goes back and has a proper negotiation with the EU, that they resolve the issues of the protocol and we get on with actually taking advantage of the position that we have."

Sinn Féin minister Mr Murphy said talk of the UK unilaterally suspending part of the Northern Ireland Protocol was a "distraction".

"What they (UK Government) really need to do is sit around the table with the EU and negotiate this out sensibly," he said.

"The grandstanding both by the British government and by unionist parties here is a complete distraction for what needs to be done."