The Biden administration has appointed former Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy III as special representative to Northern Ireland for economic affairs, as the White House continues to press the UK and EU to they are settling their dispute over the region’s post-Brexit trade deals.
US President Joe Biden has closely followed the tense standoff between London and Brussels over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, including discussing the issue during his first meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this month. last.
The White House has urged the two sides to find a negotiated settlement that does not undermine the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement that US President Bill Clinton helped broker and ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland , known as Troubles.
British officials hope to reach a deal with the EU before the 25th anniversary of the 1998 peace accord in April next year.
But U.S. officials on Monday played down Kennedy’s involvement and said he would focus on promoting trade and investment and not play a diplomatic role. Kennedy’s appointment comes ahead of a new law that requires special envoys appointed after Jan. 3, 2023, to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“He will focus on promoting economic development and investment opportunities in Northern Ireland for the benefit of all communities as well as strengthening people-to-people ties between the United States and Northern Ireland,” he said on Monday. Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State.
The role has been empty since 2021, after Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney resigned from his post following the attack on the US Capitol.
Kennedy, 42, is a member of the famous Kennedy family. His grandfather was former Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of John F Kennedy, the first American President of Irish Catholic descent.
Some right-wing Tory MPs from Sunak’s ruling party are skeptical of American influence, particularly if Kennedy’s appointment is seen as putting more pressure on the pro-British, predominantly Protestant Unionist community in Northern Ireland.
“Giving someone from the United States called Kennedy influence over this seems like a bad idea,” said a pro-Brexit Tory MP. However, senior British government officials were also privately told by Washington that Kennedy would not be involved in the Northern Ireland Protocol issue.
During a visit to Belfast last week, Sunak said he was working “hard” to resolve issues with Northern Ireland protocol and to restore the power-sharing executive to Stormont.
British officials are hoping for a deal with the EU before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace deal at Easter, although Sunak warned of an “imminent breakthrough”.
British diplomats are hopeful Biden will come to Britain for a state visit next year and want to resolve the Northern Irish dispute before he arrives. It is also hoped that the president will visit Belfast.
EU diplomats said the United States was also pushing Brussels for a compromise deal on the protocol issue. Clinton was the first US president to appoint a special envoy for Northern Ireland in 1995.
Chris Heaton-Harris, UK Secretary for Northern Ireland, said in a statement: “I look forward to working together to accelerate the already strong US partnership with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, including in the crucial areas of trade and investment.”