US president Joe Biden has hailed the Windsor Framework agreement between the UK and EU as an “essential step” for peace in Northern Ireland.
The “stability and certainty” provided by the deal will create “economic opportunities” said Biden in a White House statement, adding “the United States stands ready to support the region’s vast economic potential.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak – who signed the deal with EU president Urusla von der Leyen in Windsor on Monday (Feb 27) – told the Commons it will provide “a new way forward” for the UK’s relationship with Europe and the Northern Ireland protocol.
It may also open the door for talks on a post-Brexit UK trade deal with the US. Biden has been vocal about his Irish heritage and warned previous prime ministers there would not be a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and US whilst there was uncertainty about the Good Friday Agreement.
That was signed 25 years ago and expectations have been raised that Biden will visit Northern Ireland for celebrations to mark the anniversary if parliament approves the Windsor Framework.
Sir Keir Starmer pledged Labour’s support for the deal, ensuring it has the numbers to be voted through. However, the prime minister needs to have the support of his own party to maintain his authority and eyes have turned to the ERG (European Research Group of Tory MPs) and disgraced former PM Boris Johnson for their reaction.
The ERG said they will follow the lead of the DUP. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s leader said his party will not be “rushed or pushed” into a hasty decision about the new agreement.
Ian Paisley Jnr, DUP MP for North Antrim said he has a “gut instinct that this will not cut the mustard”.
The DUP collapsed power-sharing at Stormont over the Northern Ireland protocol. In the subsequent elections, Sinn Féin secured an historic electoral triumph to become the largest party at Stormont, meaning their assembly leader would be first minister. For the first time – and in its centennial year – Northern Ireland’s political leader would not be a unionist.
However, Sinn Féin‘s Michelle O’Neill has still not taken office as the DUP has refused to take their seats in the assembly since the election. Northern Ireland has not had a government for more than a year.
In his White House statement, Biden said he hoped the Windsor Framework would see the restoration of the Northern Ireland executive at Stormont.
“I hope — as we all do — that Northern Ireland’s political institutions are soon back up and running. Those institutions embody the principle of devolved, power-sharing, representative government at the core of the Good Friday Agreement,” said the US president.