Lewis dismisses concerns over Biden presidency amid Brexit fears

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has played down suggestions that relations with the US could be damaged if Joe Biden is elected president because of concerns over the impact of Brexit.

Mr Biden, who goes into next month’s election ahead in the polls, has warned he will not sign a free trade agreement with the UK if the Good Friday Agreement is in anyway undermined by the decision to leave the EU.

Senior Democrats have widely criticised legislation going through Parliament giving ministers the power to override elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland, even though the Government has admitted it breaches international law.

Mr Biden was vice president when Barack Obama warned in 2016 that the UK would go to the “back of the queue” for a trade deal if it left the EU and – unlike Donald Trump – is known to be no fan of Brexit.

Mr Lewis however insisted Britain would continue to work closely with the US, whoever won the election, and said the UK Internal Market Bill was designed to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“We absolutely protect and abide by the Good Friday Agreement. It is absolutely key,” he told BBC One’s the Andrew Marr Show.

“We have always worked very closely with whoever is the president of the USA. We as a country have a long, special relationship to build on, on a wide range of issues across history.

“One of them is the work we have done together – and with the Irish government – to ensure we got that Belfast-Good Friday Agreement. We will continue to protect that.

Mr Lewis also welcomed a decision by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to stay on in London this week to continue talks on a post-Brexit trade deal, saying it was a “very good sign”.

The talks had been expected to switch to Brussels but it is reported that Mr Barnier is to remain in the UK until Wednesday – in part because of the high coronavirus infection rates in the Belgian capital.

Mr Lewis said: “The fact that Michel Barnier has outlined in the last week or so that they are going to come back and do these intensive negotiations, he recognises the EU do need to move, and that he is staying through to next week, is totally a very good sign.

“I think there is a good chance that we can get a deal but I think it is for the EU to understand that it is for them to move as well.”