Oct 25, 2022 - World

Biden and new U.K. PM discuss Northern Ireland in first phone call

 Then-UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and President Biden at the G20 Summit in 2021

Rishi Sunak, then U.K. finance minster, and President Biden at the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, last year. Photo: Valeria Ferraro/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

President Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak discussed policy on Russia, Ukraine, China and outstanding issues over Northern Ireland and the European Union Tuesday, the White House said.

Driving the news: In their first call since Sunak became prime minister, the leaders "discussed their shared commitment to protecting the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the need to maintain momentum toward reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union on the Northern Ireland Protocol," per a White House readout.

Why it matters: Northern Ireland and the Irish border is one of several matters that remain unresolved since Britain's Jan. 1, 2021, exit from the European Union.

  • The Good Friday Agreement formerly ended sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, established Belfast's current system of government and essentially abolished visible signs of the Irish border.
  • EU leaders warn this is now in jeopardy after the U.K. government introduced a bill earlier this year seeking to change the original Brexit agreement, which European Union officials say would also breach international law.

Where it stands: The bill was passed in the lower house of Parliament and is now being debated in the upper house.

  • Talks with EU officials on resolving the issue resumed under Liz Truss' prime ministership, which lasted 49 days.

The intrigue: Sunak, who voted for Brexit, told Bloomberg in May it's important to him to "protect the Good Friday Agreement," but his preference was to have a negotiated settlement.

What they're saying: Officials in Dublin said they expected Sunak to be more "pragmatic" about the Northern Ireland protocol and potentially reach an agreement with the EU as he seeks to avoid a "trade war" with them and prioritizes the shattered U.K. economy, per the Irish Times.

  • Downing Street released a statement saying that during their call Biden and Sunak "agreed on the need to ensure the people of Northern Ireland have security and prosperity through preserving the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement."
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