Northern Ireland news

Sunak hails US-UK relationship as Biden's brief Belfast visit ends

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden met on the upper floors of a Belfast hotel (Paul Faith/PA)
Dominic McGrath, PA

Rishi Sunak has said the relationship between the UK and the US is in “great shape”, after meeting with US President Joe Biden during his brief visit to Northern Ireland.

The length of the visit, which saw Mr Biden arrive late on Tuesday before departing on Wednesday afternoon for the Republic of Ireland, had been seen by some as low key, with the Prime Minister also not attending the president’s afternoon address at Ulster University.

The Prime Minister, who spoke to broadcasters after a 45-minute meeting with Mr Biden at a hotel in Belfast city centre, stressed the closeness of the transatlantic relationship as he pointed to the shared vision for progress in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sunak pointed out that it was the fourth time that Mr Biden had visited the UK since becoming president, adding that this particular trip was a reminder of the US contribution to the peace process.

President Biden visit to the island of Ireland
US President Joe Biden on his visit (Aaron Chown/PA)

“We spoke in particular about the incredible economic opportunities that are there in store for Northern Ireland and we talked about the investment potential that is there, the companies that want to invest in Northern Ireland,” he told broadcasters.

“I think that is incredibly exciting, it will bring growth, jobs and prosperity to Northern Ireland and I know he shares my ambition to see the institutions here back up and running, that is what people and businesses in Northern Ireland deserve.”

The meeting, on the upper floors of the Grand Central Hotel, had been described by Downing Street as a bilateral.

A No 10 spokeswoman said the two leaders discussed the “wider relationship” between the UK and the US, alongside the lack of powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sunak said the two countries were “very close partners and allies”, adding that both leaders discussed economic investment in Northern Ireland as well as foreign policy issues.

“That comes on the back of a meeting I had with him last month in the US, I’m seeing him again next month at the G7 and then I’m going to Washington in June; we’re very close partners and allies, we co-operate on a range of things, whether that’s supporting Ukraine or economic security,” he said.

“I think actually the relationship is in great shape, and the president and I have lots that we’re working on together.”

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “They agreed that manipulation of global markets by authoritarian leaders demonstrates, more than ever, the need for like-minded partners to work together to support the economic health and security of our nations.

“The leaders said that the thriving trade relationship between the UK and US demonstrates we are doing just that.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris rejected any suggestion Mr Sunak’s lack of attendance at Ulster University was a “snub”.

“No, they had their bilateral this morning. The Prime Minister has got other private engagements that he has gone to,” he told reporters.

President Biden visit to the island of Ireland
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden met on the upper floors of a Belfast hotel (Paul Faith/PA)

Mr Biden’s arrival on the island of Ireland comes after Mr Sunak secured a deal earlier this year with the EU on post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

But the Windsor Framework has not so far encouraged the DUP to return to Stormont.

The president praised the work towards the long-sought deal in his speech at Ulster University.

“I deeply appreciate the personal leadership of Prime Minister Sunak and European Commissioner Von der Leyen to reach an agreement,” Mr Biden told the audience.

“The Windsor Framework addresses the practical realities of Brexit and it is an essential step to ensuring the hard-earned peace and progress of the Good Friday Agreement, that they are preserved and strengthened.”