Joe Biden loves Ireland. He wears his Irish heritage proudly. ‘The BBC? I’m Irish’, he quipped when Nick Bryant asked him if he had a quick word for the Beeb. Which is all very nice. It’s good when people take pride in their heritage, even if it does come off as a bit ‘Oirish’ when Irish-American politicians do it. Expect to see President Biden in a poky pub in Ireland sipping on a pint of the (non-alcoholic) black stuff in front of the world’s media within the year. ‘It’s grand!’, he’ll probably say. Everyone will cheer; I’ll cringe.
But for all the harmless craic of powerful Americans being nice to the plucky Emerald Isle, I can’t help worrying about Biden’s much-professed Irishness. I have a feeling he’s going to use Ireland as a weapon against Brexit Britain. He’s going to cite ‘Irish concerns’ as a reason Britain should soften Brexit and fall in line with the EU’s view of how things should work after the transition period. Ireland, I fear, could become a plaything of the American Empire as Washington seeks to restore the technocratic authority of the EU and other global institutions following four years of Trumpism and populism.
We need to make a distinction between Biden the man, who I have no doubt feels Irish, and Biden the President, the most powerful man on Earth, a leader who clearly believes one of his big tasks is to rejuvenate institutions that have been rattled by the populist disobedience of the masses in recent years. There are already indications that Ireland will be the cane that America uses against Britain for having the temerity to leave the EU. A few months ago Biden said a trade deal between the US and the UK would be ‘contingent’ upon Britain respecting the Good Friday Agreement. That’s code for saying Britain must stick, religiously, to the Withdrawal Agreement. Or else.
Biden didn’t mince his words. Any kind of trade deal will only be possible if the UK agrees there will be ‘no hard border in Ireland. Period.’ Make no mistake: this was a threat to use America’s economic power to punish Britain if it deviates from the Withdrawal Agreement, especially by trying to keep Northern Ireland as part of the UK’s internal market. Where are the anti-imperialists? Why did they not criticize Biden’s warning that he will use America’s extraordinary trading clout essentially to annex a part of the United Kingdom, to pressure the UK to agree that Northern Ireland should remain beholden to some of the rules and regulations of a foreign power — the EU?
We can expect the weaponization of Ireland to intensify now that Biden is prepping himself for the White House. Indeed, according to Nicholas Watt, political editor of BBC’s Newsnight, people within the ‘Biden transition team’ are planning to send ‘very strong words to No. 10’ and may instruct it to remove the Northern Ireland clauses from the Internal Market Bill. In short, a key part of that bill — the part which says the UK must have the right to breach the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement in order to ensure unfettered trade within our internal market — is not to America’s liking and therefore must be struck out.
If this really is what the Biden team plans to say to the UK, then it is an outrage. It is an intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the UK. I trust that all the pro-EU commentators and activists who had a meltdown anytime Donald Trump expressed support for Brexit will be up in arms about this far more brazen meddling by the American Empire into the democratic affairs of our nation. How dare a foreign power tell the government that 14 million Brits voted for how it should implement a policy that 17.4 million Brits voted for — Brexit.
Again and again, Biden’s justification for bossing Britain around in relation to Brexit and the Internal Market Bill is Ireland. Preserving peace in Ireland is his ‘absolute red line’, as Watt says. I’m sorry, but if you believe that Biden is simply and purely motivated by his love of the auld sod that his ancestors came from, you’ll believe anything. For a start, the panic about violence returning to Ireland if there are any trading posts between the north and the south is hugely overcooked. More importantly, Biden and his team clearly have some far bigger goals in sight than being friendly to Ireland — fundamentally they want to repair Atlanticism and the standing of the EU following the tumult of the Trump and Brexit years.
Ireland is merely a device. Just as Brussels exploited ‘Irish concerns’ these past few years to try to secure a ‘soft Brexit’, so the post-Trump White House looks set to attack Downing Street via Ireland. Ireland really needs to stop allowing powerful forces to use it in this way. Surely the fine men and women of Irish history did not struggle for national independence in order that Ireland might be used by European oligarchies and American imperialists to punish Brits for making the ‘wrong’ democratic choice?
Biden’s Irish games could seriously harm Anglo-Irish relations. Pitting Irish concerns against British democracy is a recipe for continuing tensions between our two nations. What’s more, he will embolden elements within the UK who still long to prevent Brexit from happening, or at least to soften or weaken it. Indeed, it seems anti-Brexit peers in the House of Lords, who are discussing the Internal Market Bill this week, have a new spring in their step courtesy of the victory of the Brexitphobic Biden in the US.
Lay off, Joe Biden. Britain will determine its own affairs, thank you very much. Downing Street must not yield to Biden’s threats and warnings, and Ireland must stop helping him to make them
This article was originally published onThe Spectator’s UK website.