Joe Biden UK visit set to be scrapped if Rishi Sunak fails to strike Northern Ireland Brexit deal
Diplomatic sources said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is being lined up as an alternative to visit on behalf of the US, which is a guarantor to the peace agreement, if President Biden does not attend.
The contingency planning may be taken as a sign Washington has concerns about whether enough progress is being made in negotiations, but it is understood the UK and EU are viewing it as a normal part of US logistics.
“The fact they have a Plan B I don’t think means the president has changed his mind, I think he is very keen to come,” one foreign diplomat – who did not know of the contingency plan – said.
But they added: “The Americans are putting pressure on the EU side and the UK side to get it done because Biden really wants to come [for Good Friday].”
Mr Sunak has played down talk of an “arbitrary” Good Friday deadline, despite Northern Ireland’s power-sharing political process that was established under the peace agreement being in stasis due to a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) boycott over the Protocol.
And while Mr Biden’s visit has not been officially confirmed, if he does not come, it risks being viewed as a blow to the Prime Minister following reports the UK Government wanted to offer the US president a state visit.
Mr Biden has visited the UK as President twice before – for the G7 summit in Cornwall in June last year and for the Queen’s funeral in September – but his attendance at the Good Friday Agreement commemorations would mark his first bilateral trip and give Mr Sunak the opportunity for face-to-face talks with his most powerful ally.
It is understood the UK believes a so-called landing zone is emerging in negotiations with the EU on the long-running dispute over the Protocol and that it is being tested with all sides, including the DUP.
But questioned this week about reports the UK and EU are working towards a Valentine’s Day deal to pave the way for the Northern Ireland Executive to get back up and running by Good Friday, Mr Sunak told the Commons liaison committee: “I’ve been clear that I haven’t put an arbitrary or strict deadline on the conversations that we are having and I don’t think that that’s necessarily helpful and I don’t want to unnecessarily raise people’s expectations of an imminent breakthrough.
“What I am committed to doing is working constructively with our European partners to see if we can find a way through this, to resolve the very clear challenges the Protocol presents to Northern Ireland’s place in the union.”
Hopes have, however, been raised in recent weeks that a deal may be inching closer after a flurry of diplomatic activity that saw foreign secretary James Cleverly and the European Commission’s negotiator on the Protocol, Maros Sefcovic, holding their first face-to-face talks in Brussels.
Mr Sunak also visited Northern Ireland for talks with political leaders and was said to have told them that negotiations would be intensifying in the weeks ahead.
The US Embassy in London has been asked to comment.
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