25 years ago the historical deal of the Good Friday Agreement was signed which saw the end of 30 years of Northern Irish conflict (The Troubles). This agreement has seeped into every facet of Northern Irish life. From a power-sharing government to Brexit and even to the mundane everyday activities practised by Northern Irish citizens, this agreement has become a large part of what it is to be Northern Irish. Last night Joe Biden landed in Belfast to mark the anniversary of the agreement, however, it can be said that Biden is saluting an agreement that just isn’t working anymore.
For nearly a year there has been no elected government at Northern Ireland’s parliament; Stormont, with there also being no annual budget, only exacerbating dysfunction. The effects of Brexit have only deepened problems in the UK’s most socially separated region, such as the 10s of millions of EU funding lost, which had helped sustain the most impoverished communities. Finances are low, creating a pool of issues which need to be faced. For example, the education department has ended holiday meal subsidies for children from lower socioeconomic households. Further departments are expected to have to make cuts of around 6-10%, highlighting the issue at hand.
There is a divided opinion on who is to blame, with the UK government asserting that the financial issues are a direct product of many years of a divide within the Stormont government, with the failure to make financial decisions only consolidating the persisting issues. The Democratic Unionists have stated their interest in protesting the UK and EU’s Brexit treaty in light of the new trade deals. Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will still be influenced by EU goods rules. The nationalists of Northern Ireland are hoping this shift in trade will help catapult NI out of the UK and into the possession of the republic. This highlights the varying rhetorics of varying groups within this long-divided nation.
Joe Biden’s trip to Northern Ireland will see him meet with the leaders of all 5 Northern Irish parties: The Alliance Party, Sinn Féin, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party. This meeting is an attempt to ignite a power-sharing executive. Biden is anticipated to talk about how the US can help support NI’s economy.
With Biden visiting Belfast, R Sunak is expected to encourage an enhancement of US-UK economic ties post-Brexit. He will do this by asking the President to press for more American business investment in Britain. The potential removal of obstacles to transatlantic cooperation has to be approached with caution, as Britain must not risk peace in Northern Ireland to fuel a trade war with Brussels. Recently, MI5 increased NI’S terrorism threat level after an illegal parade which saw petrol bombs thrown at a police vehicle, further highlighting the need for caution with trade deals which involve a politically fragile region.
The war in Ukraine elucidates positive British-US ties in the joint effort to support Kyiv in the growing conflict inflamed by Putin’s Russia. However, the recent clash on President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which motions large tax breaks to multinational companies which decide to reposition to N.America, could hinder the possibilities of Sunak’s plans to boost UK-US economic ties, as it can be viewed as the start of a subsidies arms race. Companies must factor in contingency plans for any deal which is forged between these two superpowers, as the economic landscape for companies could be dramatically changed by any small decision made.
By Daniel Luedicke