The UK’s hope to reach a bilateral trade deal with the United States in the near future has been further diminished by U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday.
The president issued a fresh warning about the Northern Ireland Protocol ahead of a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States—a major selling point for Johnson when he campaigned on delivering Brexit in 2019—seemed promising at the time with the backing of the then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
But the prime minister has been less optimistic about the prospect of sealing a deal soon.
“On the FTA, the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry,” Johnson told reporters on Monday while on his way to New York.
Sitting next to Johnson in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Biden said he and Johnson were to “talk a little bit about trade.”
After the prime minister mentioned the lifting of a 24-year ban on British beef imports—which happened during the previous U.S. administration—Biden said they were “going to be working on lamb too.”
But when asked why he seemed to be taking a different approach to a U.S.–UK trade deal from that of his predecessor, who “said that the UK was in front of the queue,” Biden didn’t deny taking such approach.
“There are two separate issues,” he said.
“On the deal with the UK, that continues to be discussed,” Biden told reporters, “but on the protocols, I feel very strongly about those.”
Biden said the United States had spent “an enormous amount of time and effort” on the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and that it had been a “major bipartisan effort.”
“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 again,” he told reporters.
“On that point, Joe, we are completely at one,” Johnson replied, adding that “nobody wants to see anything” that may compromise the Good Friday Agreement.
With the waning prospect of a bilateral FTA, British ministers are reportedly considering joining an existing pact with the United States, Mexico, and Canada to boost trans-Atlantic trade in a major departure from their prior ambitions.
But No. 10 Downing Street said the government is still working towards a bilateral FTA.
“Our focus is on the U.S. stand-alone deal and that’s what we’re working towards,” he said.
While not prioritising an FTA with the UK, Biden appeared much more in tune with Johnson about the upcoming Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, saying he’s “really anxious to attend” this summit “with bells on.”
PA contributed to this report.