Biden the Bhoy

Henry Raikes discusses the Irish-American lobby in the US Congress and the impact this might have on Brexit.

A spectre is haunting Brexitland – the spectre of an American President of Irish ancestry. All the powers of Vote Leave have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre. Brendan O’Neill has lamented Joe Biden’s ‘much-professed Irishness’ as evidence of the incoming ‘weaponisation of Ireland’ by the United States against the United Kingdom. Nigel Farage has charged that President-Elect Biden’s ‘antipathy towards the UK’ stems ultimately from his fundamental sympathy with and support for the notion of a united Ireland. Douglas Murray – that veritable pillar of the British conservative intelligentsia – noted that ‘Mr Biden is proud of his Irish roots’, and that a picture of Biden with former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and former An Phoblacht editor and fugitive Rita O’Hare indicated ‘where his sympathies lie’. Well that’s it then: the Provos are back, led by a fearsome Pennsylvanian septuagenarian with an Armalite in one hand and the Starry Plough in the other. It must surely only be a matter of time before hordes of Irish Republicans - with President-Elect Biden leading the vanguard, belting out Come Out Ye Black And Tans presumably – come streaming down the Shankill.

In reality the apoplexy among staunch Brexiteers prompted by Biden’s victory indicates a frightened acknowledgment among their ranks that very soon there will no longer reside in the White House a President unconcerned by breaches of international law, indifferent to the undermining of vitally-important multilateral agreements like the Good Friday Agreement and openly-supportive of Brexit merely as an establishment-defying process. In his place there will be a figure whose crime is the proudness with which he expressed his Irish heritage, as well as his commitment to upholding the rules-based international order. Whilst I always have and indeed continue to view Joe Biden somewhat sceptically as the potential harbinger of a neoliberal entrenchment, criticisms of the President-Elect and scaremongering based on his past comments on the Northern Ireland issue are politically misleading at best and at worst represent Hibernophobic dog-whistles.

American interest and involvement in Irish affairs has a history long predating the President-Elect, and any argument, like that put forward by Brendan O’Neill, that alleges Joe Biden’s support of the Good Friday Agreement constitutes ‘meddling in British affairs’ should be roundly rejected. US Senator George Mitchell, as the Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, chaired the Anglo-Irish and Northern Irish negotiations that led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998. In 1981 House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Ted Kennedy founded the Congressional organisation Friends of Ireland, a group which would go on to play a significant role in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. It is also true, it must be acknowledged, that the Provisional IRA received a not insignificant amount of arms and funding from Irish-American organisations like NORAID and notorious gunrunners like George Harrison.

Is it not natural that the kind of sectarianism and anger inspired by the iniquities of British rule in Northern Ireland replicated itself in the United States, a nation with an enormous Irish community and one keenly attuned to developments on the Emerald Isle? It does not seem controversial to me that President-Elect Biden, a man clearly proud of his Irish roots, would seek to reaffirm the peace and reconciliation enshrined on the island of Ireland by the Good Friday Agreement by warning against a no-deal Brexit that directly threatens such a settlement. Brexiteers’ noses are being put out of joint by the notion that a President far less docile and quiescent on the matter of Brexit is approaching, and their response has been to link Biden to the Irish Republican movement and tar him as ‘anti-British’. It is a grimly-ironic strategy, given that a UNESCO study reported that there would be a return to violence in some capacity if a hard border returned as a result of the Brexit process. One can only hope that President-Elect Biden will, when he moves into the White House, remain steadfast in his refusal to countenance Anglo-American trade talks if the Good Friday Agreement is threatened – this will hopefully force Boris Johnson’s arm when it comes to removing the most offensive articles of the Internal Market Bill and ensuring the retention of a soft border on the island of Ireland.

Henry Raikes has just graduated from Oxford with a BA in History. He hopes to return to Oxford to study for an MPhil in Russian and Eastern European Studies.

He tweets at @HenryRaikes.


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