Post-Brexit arrangements in NI to form ‘critical component’ of Sunak-Biden meeting

In the next few hours, Joe Biden will arrive at No 10 for his sixth official meeting with Rishi Sunak.

The US president touched down at Stansted Airport on Sunday evening before being taken by helicopter to the residence of the US ambassador in central London.

Mr Biden’s stopover in Britain comes ahead of a two-day NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Here, leaders are set to discuss the war in Ukraine and the future of the military alliance.

Today, the prime minister and Mr Biden are expected to discuss a range of topics including Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the war with Russia, cluster munitions and Kyiv’s NATO membership.

Post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland are also set to feature. John Kerry, the US climate envoy, told the BBC on Sunday that Northern Ireland and the peace process will make up a “critical component” of their discussion.

Northern Ireland is still stuck in political deadlock with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to rejoin Stormont’s power-sharing arrangements.

The prime minister had hoped the negotiation of the Windsor Framework, which sought to appease elements of unionism on post-Brexit arrangements, would have shunted the DUP back into Stormont.

Joe Biden enthusiastically backed the deal in April, describing it as an “essential step” towards protecting peace in Northern Ireland. 

The meeting also comes amid reports of potential rifts between US and UK foreign policy, with the two nations seemingly at odds over the supply of cluster ammunitions to Ukraine.

While the Biden administration is holding Ukraine to a pledge not to use these weapons on civilian targets or areas, he has undertaken the controversial decision to send cluster munitions to the war-torn nation. 

The international community is bound by the 2008 convention banning the use of all cluster munitions. Ukraine says it will use them on the eastern battlefields to take out dug in Russian forces.

Conservative MP Sir John Redwood suggested Mr Biden would “try to change the UK’s view on cluster bombs” on the visit.

Ukraine’s membership of NATO is another topic expected to feature in talks today. 

Speaking ahead the NATO summit in Lithuania this week, the US president told CNN that Russia’s war must first end before NATO could consider Ukraine’s position.

He said: “I don’t think it’s ready for membership in NATO. I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war.

“There’s other qualifications that need to be met, including democratisation and some of those issues”, he added. 

Mr Sunak is said to be in favour of fast-tracking membership.

Conservative MP Robert Courts said this morning on this point: “Biden is technically correct that Ukraine’s immediate entry into NATO is difficult to see – as president Zelensky himself has accepted – partly because of the obvious ongoing war.

“NATO is meant to deter and an immediate entry would embroil members in immediate conflict, and partly because of the inability to address interoperability issues in that time”, he added. 

Following talks with Mr Sunak today at No 10, Mr Biden will head to Windsor for tea with the King.

The pair will then meet financial and philanthropic leaders who will have attended the climate finance mobilisation forum.