France Imposes 6pm Nationwide COVID-19 Curfew

CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP

 

The French government will impose a daily nationwide curfew at 6:00 pm starting Saturday to fight the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

The measure will remain in force for at least two weeks, Castex told a news conference.

Up to now, most of France has been under an 8:00 pm curfew, with some parts of the country, especially in the hard-hit east, already under the stricter 6:00 pm curfew.

Castex said a much-feared infection surge following the year-end holidays had not happened, but said a new lockdown could be imposed “without delay” if the health situation were to deteriorate badly.

The situation in France is “under control”, he said, but still “fragile”.

Schools will remain open, but indoor sports activities have again been banned for now.

Castex also said that travellers arriving in France from non-European Union destinations would have to present a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old, and would have to self-isolate for seven days. They would then have to take a second test.

Estonian PM Resigns Over Corruption Probe

Former Estonian prime minister Juri Ratas speaks to the parliament in Tallinn after resigning, on January 13, 2021. – Ratas resigned but, denied any wrongdoing after a corruption probe was opened into his ruling Center Party and its links with an Estonian businessman. (Photo by RAIGO PAJULA / AFP)

 

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas resigned on Wednesday after his Centre Party came under investigation for corruption, raising the prospect of a new ruling coalition in the Baltic eurozone nation.

Elections are unlikely and President Kersti Kaljulaid said she would ask the leader of the opposition liberal Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, to form a government.

Kallas, who would be Estonia’s first female prime minister, would still require approval by parliament.

The outgoing government, which stays in office until a new one is found, includes the far-right EKRE party.

One of the suspects in the investigation is an adviser to Finance Minister Martin Helme from EKRE.

Ratas announced his resignation on Facebook after an hours-long meeting of his party’s board in the night.

He said he had not made “any malicious or knowingly wrong decisions” but wanted to “shed light” on the case.

READ ALSO: Biden Names Samantha Power As US Aid Chief, Boosts Role

The investigation centres on a property company called Porto Franco which received a large state loan and struck a lucrative deal with city authorities in the capital Tallinn, whose mayor is also from the party.

Hillar Teder, a businessman and the father of the company’s owner, donated large sums to the Centre Party.

– Far-right out? –

Political analyst Rein Toomla from the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies said it was “quite possible” that Ratas would stay on as a minister in a Kallas cabinet.

He said any future participation in the government by EKRE, which is also anti-EU, was “highly unlikely”.

The resignation could also scupper plans for a controversial referendum on same-sex marriage that the coalition had been planning to hold this spring.

New elections would only take place if no candidate for prime minister can command a parliamentary majority.

Estonia last went to the polls in 2019.

The Reform Party came first in those elections but failed to clinch a deal for a majority coalition.

Instead, the Centre Party forged a coalition with EKRE and the right-wing Isamaa conservatives.

Toomla said a grand coalition between Reform, Centre, Isamaa and the Social Democrats was “the most sensible option in the current complicated situation”.

Such an alliance “would ensure the biggest support for the government” in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and to steer an economic recovery, he said.

The Centre and Reform parties have alternated in government over the nearly three decades since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Both strongly support Estonia’s EU and NATO membership, which they see as a buffer against Soviet-era master Russia.

They have favoured austerity to keep spending in check, giving the country one of the eurozone’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratios.

AFP

Netanyahu Orders New Israeli Settlement In West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the COVID-19 vaccination facility in Jerusalem on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP)

 

Israel’s prime minister on Monday directed authorities to approve construction of 800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank days before President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel administration leaves office.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed that plans be advanced for the construction of about 800 units in Judea and Samaria,” a statement from the premier’s office said, using biblical terms for the West Bank.

President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in next week, has indicated that his administration will restore US policy opposing settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

Trump’s administration gave unprecedented US support to settler groups, highlighted by a declaration from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 that Washington no longer viewed settlements as being in violation of international law.

READ ALSO: Cyprus Leader Ready To Attend UN Meet On Ending Deadlock

Pompeo in November also became the first top US diplomat to visit a settlement in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Netanyahu is facing re-election on March 23, Israel’s fourth vote in just under two years.

A series of recent of polls indicate the veteran prime minister is facing a strong right-wing challenge from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar, who defected from Netanyahu’s Likud party last month to run against the premier.

Netanyahu is widely expected to make a series of plays for right-wing votes, including by bolstering his pro-settlement credentials, before the vote, according to Israeli political analysts.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that 100 of the new units were to be built in the Tal Menashe settlement, where French-Israeli Esther Horgen was murdered last month.

Israel’s security services have said the settler was murdered by Palestinian Mohammed Cabha, claiming he had political motives for her killing related to the occupation.

Netanyahu’s order to advance settlement construction is not final, with the process having to clear several bureaucratic phases and possible legal challenges from anti-occupation groups before any construction begins.

There are currently some 450,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, living amid an estimated 2.8 million Palestinians.

All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.

UK PM Postpones India Trip Due To COVID-19 Crisis

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 19, 2020. TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP
TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday postponed a post-Brexit trip planned this month to India after the Covid crisis worsened in Britain, Downing Street said.

“The prime minister spoke to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a spokesperson said, blaming a fast-spreading strain of the virus.

Johnson announced a new England-wide lockdown on Monday following the emergence of the virulent new strain, explaining urgent action was needed to prevent spiralling numbers of cases overwhelming health services.

“The prime minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus,” Downing Street said Johnson had told his Indian counterpart.

Johnson still hopes to visit India in the first half of 2021, before Modi is due to attend a G7 summit in Britain later this year.

READ ALSO: Britain Locks Down Over COVID-19 Surge Despite New Vaccine Rollout

The British leader was due to be a guest at India’s annual Republic Day celebrations on January 26, shortly after the UK left the European Union’s single market and as it seeks new trade deals around the world, particularly in fast-growing Asia.

Announcing the trip last month, Johnson said the visit would showcase “Global Britain” and help to deliver a “quantum leap” in Britain’s relations with India, the jewel of its former empire.

Thai PM Blames Migrant Workers For Market COVID-19 Outbreak

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha attends a signing ceremony for the agreement to purchase AstraZeneca’s potential Covid-19 vaccine at Government House in Bangkok on November 27, 2020. CHALINEE THIRASUPA / POOL / AFP

 

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Monday blamed a coronavirus outbreak linked to the kingdom’s largest seafood market on low-paid migrant workers employed in the country’s lucrative shrimp industry.

Thailand has been on high alert since Thursday when a 67-year-old prawn seller from Mahachai market tested positive for coronavirus.

Contact tracing and mass testing found more than 800 cases so far linked to the site — a major outbreak for a country which previously had just 4,000 confirmed infections.

The majority of the new cases are workers from Myanmar, who toil on shrimping boats and in processing factories linked to the multi-billion-dollar Thai seafood industry.

On Monday Prayut blamed the outbreak on factories employing illegal migrant workers, who he accused of illegally crossing the porous Myanmar-Thailand border.

“They snuck out and came back in,” he said.

Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Myanmar — which has seen an alarming spike since August and still registers some 1,000 new cases a day.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Atmosphere Tense For UK Passengers Held At German Airports

“I have told authorities there must be a system to trace workers,” he said, adding that he was hopeful the situation would improve in a week.

Health officials said the infection rate at Mahachai market is “about 42 percent”.

The market and its vicinity have been on lockdown since Saturday with the thousands living there barred from leaving.

On Monday the market was ringed by barbed wire and authorities distributed food to workers quarantined inside.

Myanmar shrimp transporter Min Min Tun said it was “unfair and one-sided” that Thais were blaming them without evidence.

He added that no information has been provided about who has tested positive, causing fear in the worker community.

“We could all be infected since we don’t have the information who to avoid and where not to go,” he said.

Thailand’s economy is highly reliant on millions of low-wage labourers from neighbouring Myanmar and Cambodia who keep the kingdom’s seafood, manufacturing, construction and service sectors humming.

But the migrant workforce faces widespread discrimination, and the outbreak has ignited anti-Myanmar sentiment among Thais — including for those who live and work among the Myanmar community in Mahachai.

“I would not get close to them under any circumstances,” said food vendor Maneerat Jekpan working outside the market, admitting she was “anti-Burmese”.

Despite her animosity, she still brought food to the quarantined workers because she was “worried they wouldn’t have anything to eat”.

AFP

Pfizer To Deliver First COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Canada In December – PM

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 14, 2020 Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses a press conference at the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany. Thomas KIENZLE / AFP.

 

Pfizer and BioNTech will deliver the first doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to Canada this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday, with inoculations to start as early as next week.

“Canada has secured an agreement with Pfizer to begin early delivery of doses of their vaccine candidate,” Trudeau told a news conference.

“We are now contracted to receive up to 249,000 of our initial doses of Pfizer BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine in the month of December,” he said.

Pending Health Canada regulatory approval, expected this week, the prime minister said the first shipments to 14 sites across Canada could be delivered next week, with millions more doses to follow in 2021.

The federal government has contracted with several pharmaceutical companies — including AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech, Sanofi and GSK, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Medicago and Moderna — to secure more than 400 million vaccine doses for its population of 38 million.

The US giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s vaccine is at the most advanced stage, having proved 95 percent effective in late-stage clinical trials and already secured approval in Britain where its world-first rollout is to begin Tuesday.

Ottawa in August signed a deal with Pfizer for 20 million doses plus options for millions more.

It poses some logistical challenges, however, including that it must be stored at extreme sub-zero temperatures and requires two doses given a week apart to be effective.

Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine rollout, said it will take only one or two days after it arrives to “unpack, thaw, decant, mix” and inject it into the arms of Canadians.

 

Israel’s Coalition Government Inches Towards Collapse

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israel’s precarious coalition government was set to move closer towards collapse on Wednesday with lawmakers due to vote on a preliminary measure to dissolve parliament, raising prospects of elections next year.

In a primetime televised address on Tuesday, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, the key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said his centrist Blue and White party would back a bill to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

But Wednesday’s parliamentary vote on an opposition proposal marks only a first step.

A bill to dissolve the Knesset will require three additional successful readings before new elections must be called.

But Gantz’s decision to side with the opposition, at least for now, highlights the widening cracks in Israel’s centre-right coalition, imperilled from the start by mistrust, infighting and public recriminations.

READ ALSO: Italy To Offer Free COVID-19 Vaccines, Starting With Doctors

“I had no illusions about Netanyahu,” Gantz said in his Tuesday speech.

He reminded Israelis that he battled the prime minister in three consecutive inconclusive elections that did not allow either leader to form a majority government.

Gantz said he decided to agree a unity government with Netanyahu, whom he knew to be a “serial promise-breaker”, because he wanted to spare Israelis “an ugly and costly” fourth election, especially as the coronavirus pandemic was accelerating.

“Netanyahu didn’t lie to me,” Gantz said. “He lied to all of you.”

– Budget impasse –

The Netanyahu-Gantz coalition, agreed in April, included strict power-sharing arrangements, with cabinet posts split roughly evenly between allies of both men.

Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, was to serve as prime minister for the first half of the three-year arrangement.

Gantz had been due to take over as premier in November 2021 but Netanyahu’s critics have always insisted he would find a way to sink the coalition before vacating the prime minister’s office for Gantz.

The unity deal included multiple triggers that would automatically force new elections, including a failure to pass a budget.

Gantz accused Netanyahu of consistently misleading the public over the budget issue to serve his own political ends.

“Netanyahu committed to pass a budget in August, and naturally did not stand by his word. He promised that it would happen in December and is not following through. Does anyone believe him anymore?” Gantz said.

Gantz directly called on Netanyahu to “put a state budget forward”, making clear that if he did so, new elections could be avoided.

Netanyahu released a video shortly before Gantz spoke on Tuesday, urging him to keep the coalition together.

“Now is not the time for elections,” Netanyahu said. “Now is the time for unity.”

– Arab List deal? –

Gantz also courts huge political risks by taking Israel back to the polls.

His Blue and White coalition fractured when he decided to strike a deal with Netanyahu and Gantz’s personal popularity has fallen according to a series of recent polls.

His former ally turned critic, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, is now the Knesset opposition leader and would be seen by many voters as a more effective anti-Netanyahu force than Gantz in a new election.

In a commentary on Israel’s N12 website, political columnist Amit Segal argued that Gantz’s political fortunes were plummeting.

Blue and White “can only expect a nightmarishly difficult election campaign,” Segal said.

Even with Gantz’s support, there is also no guarantee that Wednesday’s provisional measure will be approved by Israel’s deeply fractured parliament.

The Knesset’s second largest opposition bloc is the mainly Arab Joint List, which is itself made up of different factions.

A faction counting four lawmakers within the Joint List has engaged Netanyahu in recent weeks in talks on various shared interests, including over possibly channelling more resources to Arab-Israeli communities.

Support from those lawmakers could be enough to hold off the dissolution bid.

AFP

Canada Grants Poultry, Egg Producers Aid Over Free Trade Losses

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on January 9, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. Dave Chan / AFP
Dave Chan / AFP

 

Canada on Saturday announced aid of Can$691 million (US$531 million) to its poultry and egg producers for losses caused by free trade deals with Europe and Asia-Pacific countries.

Canada controls the production and price of eggs, poultry and milk through annual quotas and import taxes — a system deemed protectionist by its foreign partners.

But with the entry into force in recent years of free trade deals with the European Union (CETA) and another with a dozen Asia-Pacific countries (TPP), Ottawa has agreed to open further its market to foreign producers, angering Canadian farmers.

By announcing these breaches of the supply management system, in place since the 1970s, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had promised that compensation would be paid to breeders.

Federal aid to some 4,800 egg and poultry producers will extend over 10 years, said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Bibeau also announced an acceleration in disbursements of the Can$1.75 billion pledged in 2019 to compensate dairy farmers over eight years.

More than 10,000 farmers had received a first aid tranche of Can$345 million last year.

The remaining Can$1.4 billion is to be paid to them over the next three years.

Bibeau cited an example payment, saying the owner of an 80-cow farm would receive compensation of about Can$38,000 per year.

Bibeau also reiterated the government’s intention to offer compensation to producers affected by a greater opening of the Canadian market under the new free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico, in force since earlier this year.

AFP

British PM Boris Johnson To Announce Mass COVID-19 Testing Programme

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during his visit to the Tollgate Medical Centre in Becton, east London on July 24, 2020.. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP)

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to announce on Monday a major testing programme in areas with the highest coronavirus infection rates as the country re-enters a system of tiered restrictions.

The prime minister was set to announce in parliament that regions classed as very high risk would be able to bring in the army to help with mass testing as part of the government’s Covid Winter Plan.

This comes after the city of Liverpool this month held England’s first city-wide testing, which the government hailed as a success leading to a “substantial fall” in cases.

The city in northwest England is now set to trial a new system of testing where contacts of those who have tested positive can take a test every day for a week and only have to isolate if they test positive, instead of immediately quarantining.

If successful, this system could be used across the country’s state-run National Health Service (NHS), in care homes and by the whole population from January, Downing Street said.

It said new measures will also focus on care home residents, who are unable to have visitors indoors due to social distancing rules.

It said that a pilot programme to test visitors in 20 care homes could roll out nationwide next month, allowing residents to have physical contact with visitors.

– Economic impact –

England is to return to a system of tiered anti-coronavirus restrictions after the latest lockdown ends on December 2.

Downing Street has said these will be similar to the system in place before the lockdown but more restrictive in some areas.

Britain has seen more than 55,000 deaths from some 1.5 million cases — one of the worst rates in the world — and has been grappling to control a second spike of infections.

READ ALSO: World’s Top Surgical Glove Maker Shuts Factories Due To COVID-19

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC radio on Monday that “the top tier is going to have to be tougher than the previous top tier”.

“We need to make sure we bring the virus down, not just flatten it,” he said.

Johnson, under pressure because of the economic impact of the outbreak, was also due to announce Monday how rules will be relaxed for Christmas to allow family gatherings.

It comes after British drugs group AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday said they would seek approval for their jointly-developed vaccine against Covid-19.

“We can see with some confidence that this about getting through this winter and getting the vaccine programme rolled out,” Hancock said of the latest measures.

AFP

COVID-19 Made Me Fitter, Says Boris Johnson

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, central England on June 30, 2020. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / POOL / AFP)

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed Tuesday he was obese when he contracted coronavirus earlier this year, but after losing weight said he now felt much better.

The 56-year-old spent three nights in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19, and there have been swirling questions about his health ever since.

“I am fitter than I was before, it may irritate you to know,” he said, when asked by a reporter about his health following a speech on education.

“I am fitter than a butcher’s dog, thanks basically to losing weight.

“When you reach 17 stone six (around 111 kg, 244 pounds) as I did, at a height of about five foot 10 (around 1.78 metres), it’s probably a good idea to lose weight, so that’s what I’ve done. And I feel much much better.”

An online calculator provided by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) suggests that a man with Johnson’s age, weight and height would have a body mass index (BMI) of 34.9 — classing him as obese.

It is not the first time Johnson has boasted about his health, using a newspaper interview in June to make the “butcher’s dog” analogy and even doing push-ups to prove his fitness.

But the issue has returned as a talking point amid disquiet among his Conservative lawmakers over his handling of a new uptick in coronavirus cases.

The outbreak has so far killed 42,000 people in Britain — the worst toll in Europe.

Johnson has recently been spotted running with a personal trainer in a park near his Downing Street office. As London mayor between 2008 and 2006, he was a keen cyclist.

AFP

Canada’s PM Trudeau To Lay Out Plans Amid COVID-19

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 14, 2020 Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses a press conference at the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany. Thomas KIENZLE / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lay out on Wednesday a new post-pandemic direction for Canada that will test his minority government’s support in parliament in the coming weeks.

Trudeau had hinted his so-called throne speech would herald grand New Deal-style reforms, with a focus on implementing climate measures and addressing social inequalities laid bare by the Covid-19 outbreak.

But those plans have been tempered by an uptick in new coronavirus cases as millions of Canadians have returned to work and school this month, with the focus of the speech instead set to remain on emergency measures to limit the contagion’s spread.

Trudeau had vowed “bold new solutions” to Canada’s ills, saying in August: “As much as this pandemic is an unexpected challenge, it is also an unprecedented opportunity.

“This is our chance to build a more resilient Canada, a Canada that is healthier and safer, greener and more competitive… more welcoming and more fair.”

But one month later, amid warnings of a second Covid-19 wave, his tone turned apprehensive.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Trudeau said last week. “The fight against Covid-19 is far from over, so we must stay focused on the task ahead.”

Meanwhile, new finance minister Chrystia Freeland is also fretting about whether Ottawa has the fiscal capacity left to pay for major reforms anyway, after the country doled out more than Can$300 billion (US$230 billion) in emergency aid in the last six months.

– One year since elections –

It has only been one year since the Liberals were re-elected, when they lost their majority in the lower chamber of the legislature last October.

Trudeau insists he needs the “approval of parliament in order to be able to move forward” on his policy goals, as Canada’s circumstances are dramatically different than when he won his mandate last year.

Thanks to the pandemic, the country’s jobless rate peaked at 13.9 percent in May, while the economy contracted at a record 38.7 percent in the second quarter.

It is arguably an awkward time for sweeping policy changes, or as critics suggested, to dare the opposition to force snap elections.

But polling shows most Canadians are satisfied with Trudeau’s management of the crisis.

And the Tories elected a new leader only last month: Erin O’Toole, who is not well known to Canadians.

Both O’Toole and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet are isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 and so will not attend the speech.

Plus, officials have yet to sort out a plan for virtual voting to avoid cramming 338 members into the House of Commons to cast ballots on the throne speech and a new budget.

All three opposition parties would need to work together to topple the government. Few believe they will take the bait.

“If there is an election coming, we’re all apparently missing the war drums because they’ve all gone down to a dull thump,” said Tim Powers, managing director of polling firm Abacus Data.

“I think the public mood at the moment is: Fix some problems but don’t try to re-make society because we’re still in the midst of a pandemic,” he told AFP.

“Canadians want a government that’s ready to continue to lay their hands on them and protect them and help them. I think all political parties have an awareness of that.”

– Incumbent seems safe –

University of Ottawa professor Genevieve Tellier suggested the Liberals could parlay the unease into support for their new agenda.

Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, ushered in major new social changes while himself at the head of a minority government.

“During crises governments are able to implement broad, huge programs,” Tellier told AFP.

An election now, she added, would favor the incumbent.

“You can’t have big rallies right now, where candidates gain visibility. Even wearing a mask means that people don’t recognize you and don’t see your face,” she explained.

The situation might also allow the prime minister to move past a third ethics scandal in as many years — the latest involving a now-defunct charity with Trudeau family ties tapped by Ottawa to distribute pandemic aid.

Trudeau said: “I do not want an election. I don’t think Canadians want an election.”

But “if there has to be an election, we’ll figure it out,” he added.

Regardless, Tellier said the throne speech was highly anticipated, because “Canadians want reassurance that the government has a plan.”

AFP

UK Bids To Reassure Over Northern Ireland After Biden Warning

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)a at the House of Commons – ˜ (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

 

Britain on Thursday reaffirmed its backing for Northern Ireland’s peace accord, after White House candidate Joe Biden warned of potential fallout for a future UK-US trade deal from London’s Brexit manoeuvering.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Democrat Biden, who has often spoken passionately of his Irish roots, wrote on Twitter.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said a contentious bill currently being debated by parliament was intended “precisely to make sure that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is upheld in all circumstances”.

“We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” he told reporters.

The planned legislation — which Britain admits will override parts of the Brexit treaty — has provoked anger and concern among EU officials.

The proposed law would make unilateral changes to regulate trade with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, if it cannot seal a post-Brexit deal with the EU by the end of this year.

Brussels has threatened legal action if it is not withdrawn by the end of September and reminded Britain of its duty to uphold international treaty obligations.

Northern Ireland is set to remain bound by some EU rules to ensure its border with Ireland remains open — a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence.

But Johnson charges that the EU could carry out a food “blockade” between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, which would threaten peace and territorial integrity.

“We will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

“The whole point of this, as the PM has set out, is to make sure the Belfast Good Friday Agreement is upheld.”

Biden’s strong words came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab visited Washington to try to allay US concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

It followed a similar warning from Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced confidence that Britain would find a “good outcome” in its standoff with the EU.

Prior to Biden’s intervention, the prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that his bill would “protect the peace process in Northern Ireland”.

“Possibly the vital importance of protecting the symmetry of the Good Friday Agreement is something that may have been lost so far in the presentation of this matter (in Washington),” he said.

AFP