Ireland predicted Joe Biden’s victory would prompt Downing Street to “pause for thought” in Brexit talks as Micheál Martin, the prime minister, called the incoming US president a “stalwart friend and supporter” of the country.
Mr Biden is but the latest in a long line of American leaders with old family links to Ireland, a legacy of the country’s long history of emigration, but Mr Martin said he will be the “most Irish” president since John F Kennedy more than half a century ago.
The election of a man who once said “Ireland will be written on my soul” has cheered his ancestral home — each of Mr Biden’s eight great great-grandparents on his mother’s side were Irish-born, as were two great-grandparents on his father’s side. In television footage from January that circulated widely on social media over the weekend, a smiling Mr Biden is seen replying to a request for comment from the BBC by simply saying: “I’m Irish.”
But it is in the heated realpolitik of Brexit that Dublin believes the president-elect may make a difference, as the endgame approaches in fraught EU-UK trade talks. Mr Biden’s opposition to Brexit stands in contrast to Donald Trump’s support, and he has described Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, as “a physical and emotional clone” of the incumbent in the White House.
The president-elect has taken a dim view of Mr Johnson’s contentious Brexit legislation that will break international law by reneging on terms of Britain’s EU withdrawal treaty designed to keep open the land border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. The Irish border has been the biggest flashpoint in years of fractious talks between London and Brussels.
As the UK prime minister faces a heavy House of Lords defeat this week on that legislation, he must now deal with a president-elect who warned during the election campaign that Britain could forget any prospect of a US-UK trade deal if it made Northern Ireland “a casualty” of Brexit.
Mr Martin has seized on Mr Biden’s victory, saying he “has pledged his ongoing steadfast support” for the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that settled decades of deadly conflict in Northern Ireland.
Simon Coveney, the foreign minister, went further on Monday, saying the situation in Washington had changed.
“Now that Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the US, I certainly think that will be a cause for . . . a pause for thought in Number 10 to ensure that the Irish issues are prioritised as we try to close out this phase of the Brexit negotiation,” Mr Coveney told RTE.
“I don’t say that in any way that’s provocative towards the UK. I think it’s just reality. I think we all want now to try to see the back to tense stand-offs linked to Brexit.”
Paul Allen, a leading light in the “Irish for Biden” campaign group, said Mr Biden was proud of his Irish lineage. “Having met him during various St Patrick’s day visits to Washington and Capitol Hill over the years, he always loved reaching out to the Irish and the Irish diaspora,” he said.
Referring to Mr Biden’s looming inauguration, he added: “I certainly think that in an international sense, on January 20 the die is going to be cast in the context of Brexit.”
According to Mr Martin, the taoiseach, Mr Biden’s strong family ties with counties Mayo and Louth are such that people there count him “among their own”.
Irish relatives include Joe Blewitt, a plumber in the Mayo town of Ballina who is a third cousin once removed of the president-elect. He made headlines locally by turning the election to his advantage in advertising on his van: “Joe Biden for the White House and Joe Blewitt for your house.”
Mr Blewitt has been inundated with calls from well-wishers since Mr Biden was declared the winner, he told the FT. “We’re absolutely thrilled. We are so happy for the family. It’s unbelievable. He has been on a long road and now he is finally going to be president.”