By Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey and Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar expressed support for a UK-EU deal on post-Brexit trade rules as the two leaders met to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Friday.
They met in the White House’s Oval Office before heading to the U.S. Capitol for a lunch with lawmakers from both countries, where Biden, a Democrat, spoke of his desire to find “common ground” with Republicans in deeply divided Washington.
Biden earlier this week said he intended to visit the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland around next month’s 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which largely brought an end to political violence in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the Capitol, Biden, who often talks with pride of his Irish roots, reaffirmed his support for the agreement.
London and Brussels reached a deal last month that seeks to resolve the tensions caused by the Northern Ireland protocol that set trade rules in the aftermath of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Biden said he discussed the deal with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in California this week.
“It’s a vital, vital step, and that’s going to help ensure all the people in Northern Ireland have an opportunity to realize their full potential,” Biden said.
Varadkar earlier thanked the United States for its support for Ireland’s position on Brexit, which he said “really made a difference.”
Addressing lawmakers at the lunch, the Irish leader joked that it was a pleasure to sit next to the president and House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, “not to keep the peace” but to thank them for their support for Ireland.
Biden has made the fight to ensure democracy and democratic norms a core pillar of his presidency, and told the crowd:
“There’s no reason why we can’t find common ground. There’s no reason why we can’t hope to change this direction to extreme in both parties. I think it’s important. I think it’s really important,” Biden said, citing Irish poet Seamus Heaney, a favorite of the president.
McCarthy, a Republican at odds with Biden’s administration on many issues, told the president: “From one Irish American to another…our positions may be reversed but our goals can be the same.”
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey, Simon Lewis and Rami Ayyub; Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Mark Porter, Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman)