Feeling special yet, Rishi? Awkward moment Joe Biden appears to push Sunak aside in Belfast – as it emerges he WON’T talk to PM about US trade deal and will only stay in NI for few hours before heading to ‘ancestral homeland’ Ireland

  • US President Joe Biden touched down at a military base near Belfast yesterday
  • He will hold talks with Rishi Sunak this morning but has been criticised by DUP

The US has insisted Joe Biden will not discuss a trade deal with Rishi Sunak as they meet in Belfast today.

The PM and US president are holding talks this morning as they mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

However, hopes that the visit could help break the deadlock at Stormont have dwindled – with the DUP slamming the president as ‘extremely partisan’ and ‘anti-British’ after he trumpeted his Irish roots.

Mr Biden is only expected to ‘greet’ the leaders of the main Northern Ireland political parties, before giving a speech and immediately heading over the border to the Republic, where he will spend the next three days.

Mr Sunak suffered an awkward moment as he greeted Air Force One at RAF Aldergrove last night, with the president appearing to push him to one side in order to shake hands with someone else.

And despite fledgling signs of a thaw in relations after the Windsor Framework eased the row with the EU over post-Brexit rules in the province, US officials have suggested the leaders will not even talk about reviving a trade package.

Amanda Sloat, senior director for Europe at the US National Security Council, told a briefing for journalists the focus will be Northern Ireland and the war in Ukraine.

‘I don’t anticipate that the two leaders are going to be talking about a free trade agreement on this trip … I think their conversation is going to focus primarily on the situation in Northern Ireland given that that’s where they’re meeting, as well as the chance to touch base on Ukraine and some other issues,’ she said.

Rishi Sunak suffered an awkward moment as he greeted Air Force One at RAF Aldergrove last night, with Joe Biden appearing to push him to one side in order to shake hands with someone else

Joe Biden was greeted by Rishi Sunak on the steps of Air Force One in Belfast last night (pictured). They will hold talks this morning

Biden was seen stepping off Air Force One onto the tarmac of RAF Aldergrove airbase in County Antrim on Tuesday

Joe Biden was cheered by crowds as he arrived at City Hall in Belfast last night

Ms Sloat said Mr Biden and Mr Sunak had the opportunity to touch briefly on economic issues when they met in San Diego, a conversation which she said will be ‘furthered and deepened’ when they meet in Washington in June.

‘We’re continually looking for ways to engage with the UK on a whole range of economic issues,’ she added.

Downing Street is believed to be focusing on smaller agreements with the US, such as one that has been mooted on minerals.  

The leaders of Northern Ireland’s main political parties will have the opportunity to talk to Mr Biden before he delivers an address at Ulster University’s new £350million Belfast campus later.

But the US administration said there will not be a formal group meeting with the leaders.

‘The main message of the president to all parties, to all people of Northern Ireland, is to reaffirm support for the Good Friday Agreement, and obviously pillar one and the devolved institutions here in Northern Ireland are a fundamental part of the Good Friday Agreement, and so I think the presidents message – as he said on St Patrick’s Day and I expect he will reaffirm today – is the United States’ strong support for that, the belief that the people of Northern Ireland deserve to have a democratically elected power sharing representative governance,’ Ms Sloat said. 

Mr Biden is also not going to Stormont, with the power-sharing Assembly established in the peace deal currently suspended amid a boycott by the DUP.

Where will Biden go on his four-day tour?  

TUESDAY – Land in Belfast

WEDNESDAY – Meet Rishi Sunak in Belfast and go to Ulster University to mark the Good Friday agreement.

Biden will travel to Dublin and then to County Louth.

THURSDAY – Biden will hold separate meetings in Dublin with Irish President Michael Higgins and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar before addressing Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament.

FRIDAY – Biden will visit County Mayo, exploring family genealogy and giving a speech about ties between the US and Ireland

The unionist party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said this morning that Mr Biden had to take a share of responsibility for the ‘political instability’ in Northern Ireland.

‘He is seen as extremely partisan,’ Mr Wilson told Talk TV, adding that Mr Biden had shown himself ‘anti-British’ in the debates over Brexit.

‘I suppose this is more about Joe Biden his reelection attempts and appealing to the Irish vote in America,’ Mr Wilson said.  

The US President – accompanied by his Northern Ireland envoy Joe Kennedy – will carry out several other engagements across the week to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which largely brought an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1998. He will meet the Prime Minister again on Wednesday for a bilateral meeting.

Mr Sunak will not attend Mr Biden’s keynote speech.

Speaking to reporters before his departure, Mr Biden said that his top priority was to ‘make sure the Irish accords and the Windsor Agreement stay in place, keep the peace’. 

His son Hunter Biden and sister Valerie Biden Owen are accompanying him for the trip.

A major security operation will be in place for Mr Biden’s visit, with more than 300 officers from the rest of the UK being drafted into Northern Ireland.

The PSNI has also warned of significant traffic disruption in Belfast during the presidential visit, with a number of roads in the city centre already closed.

In the Republic Mr Biden will give a speech in Dublin as well as making visits to ancestral homelands.

He will cross the border to attend engagements in Co Louth this afternoon.

The President has traced his ancestral roots to the area and he will tour Carlingford Castle in the county before spending the night in Dublin. He is then expected to visit Irish President Michael D Higgins on Thursday.

It has been announced that Dublin’s Phoenix Park will be closed for 24 hours from 5pm on Wednesday to facilitate the visit. Mr Higgins’ official residence is within the park’s grounds.

The White House said Mr Biden will take part in a tree-planting ceremony and ringing of the Peace Bell at the President’s official residence, Aras an Uachtarain. Following that ceremony, he will meet again with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whom Mr Biden recently hosted for St Patrick’s Day.

Mr Biden will address the Irish parliament and attend a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle tomorrow evening.

The President’s trip will conclude with a visit to Co Mayo, where he has also connected with distant cousins, on Friday. 

He will tour the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock and visit the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Centre’s family history research unit. He will then make a public speech at St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina.

Monday marked 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland and left 3,600 people dead. 

The President tweeted he would use the Belfast leg of his trip to underscore his nation’s ‘commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity’ in the region.

But he was cautioned against exerting too much pressure on unionists by former prime minister Sir Tony Blair, one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He told Radio 4 Today: ‘One thing I learned about the unionists is if you try and pressurise them to do something that they’re fundamentally in disagreement with, it’s usually futile pressure, even if it comes from the US, so you’ve got to use that influence carefully.’

Biden was greeted at Belfast International Airport by Rishi Sunak just before 9.30pm

The American President was seen in conversation with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

President Joe Biden was greeted by Rishi Sunak and US Ambassador to the United Kingdom Jane Hartley (centre). To his right was United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III

Biden and Sunak were all smiles as they spoke to each other on the tarmac of the air base

US President Joe Biden arrived in Air Force One at RAF Aldergrove airbase in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday evening

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives in Air Force One at RAF Aldergrove airbase in County Antrim, Northern Ireland April 11

The American leader and the First Lady, Dr Jill Biden, touched down in Belfast in Air Force One on Tuesday, where he was greeted by the British Prime Minister before being taken away in his armoured car, dubbed ‘The Beast’ (pictured) 

US President Joe Biden was seen smiling and pointing as he rode in ‘The Beast’ on Tuesday evening

The UK is observing the milestone anniversary with a reunion of key players in the peace process alongside Biden’s visit.

Deep divisions remain over the conflict’s legacy, and authorities raised the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland to ‘severe’ in March as they warned of IRA dissidents opposed to the peace process. 

Youths threw petrol bombs and set a police vehicle on fire during a dissident march in Londonderry on Monday.

Police said they had intelligence that a major attack had been planned so when masked teenagers threw petrol bombs at a vehicle, they simply withdrew rather than being sucked into what they thought might be an ambush. 

The following day they said  they had recovered four pipe bombs from a cemetery near the city.

‘The discovery of these devices was a further sinister and worrying development,’ said Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton.

Easter Monday brought violence to Derry, where masked teenagers through petrol bombs at a police vehicle during a march by dissident republicans opposed to the 1998 peace deal

In Belfast, armored vehicles parked up outside the Grand Central hotel, where barriers were erected to close the street to traffic. 

The violence is nothing compared with the decades of violence known as the Troubles, but Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency recently increased the threat level from domestic terrorism to ‘severe’ – meaning an attack is highly likely. 

The result is a major policing operation. Some 300 officers have been drafted in from elsewhere in the U.K. to bolster numbers, with the whole cost coming to about £7million (about $8.7million).

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