Biden Should Push EU, U.K. to Ease Northern Ireland Friction, DUP Says

U.S. President Joe Biden should encourage the U.K. and European Union to ease frictions at the Irish border and prevent economic instability sparking a return of violence in Northern Ireland, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in London said.

In an interview on Thursday, Jeffrey Donaldson, who leads Northern Ireland’s DUP in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative-controlled Westminster Parliament, warned of the damage new checks required under the Brexit settlement are inflicting on trade.

Unionists have long resisted the Northern Ireland Protocol Johnson signed with the EU because it puts the customs border in the Irish Sea rather than at the boundary with the Republic, separating the province from the rest of the U.K.

Tensions have risen significantly over the past week after the European Commission said it would control exports of coronavirus vaccines to Northern Ireland -- blindsiding the U.K. and Irish governments and infuriating unionist political leaders. Even though the EU reversed course within hours, the move has damaged trust between the two sides.

“I would say to President Biden and his team that they need to join in encouraging economic stability to return to Northern Ireland as soon as possible,” Donaldson said. “They should encourage the EU and the U.K. to address the difficulties that the Northern Ireland protocol has for the economy to avoid friction along the border.”

Donaldson, whose party is pushing for a resolution to the issue by the end of March, said he is “not overly impressed” by the U.K. calling for the extension of grace periods which allow some checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. to be skipped, as that only “kicks the can down the road.”

He warned that friction at the border will drive trade away from Northern Ireland and could spark a return of violence, adding that DUP staff were threatened this week.

“What concerns me is the potential for economic instability,” Donaldson said. “Peace and prosperity are twins, they walk hand in hand. If we undermine economic stability -- especially in the midst of a pandemic -- it’s the last thing we need.”

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