U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Friday, part of the longstanding White House tradition of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations of Irish culture in the United States.
“It’s a big day in my grandparents’ household, our household, big day here,” Biden told Varadkar in reference to his Irish heritage. “Ireland and the United States share great friendship and long, long traditions,” added the president, who was wearing a green tie and shamrock in his suit pocket, traditional Irish symbols.
Varadkar thanked Biden for his “support and understanding for our position on Brexit.”
During negotiations on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, also known as Brexit, the Irish government pushed to include the Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.
The Irish government feared that a hard border could threaten the U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace deal that ended decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland over the question of whether it should unify with Ireland or remain part of the UK.
Under the 2021 protocol, Northern Ireland remains in UK customs territory, but it follows many EU rules and regulations.
“And we’ve got to a good place now I think with the Windsor framework, where we can have an agreement that lasts,” Varadkar noted, referring to the post-Brexit deal designed to fix trade issues under the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The White House said the framework is an important step in maintaining the peace accord.
Biden is expected to visit Ireland in coming weeks to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The White House has not officially announced the trip, but Varadkar said he was looking forward to it.
“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other,” Varadkar said.
Support for Ukraine
Biden thanked Varadkar for his support in Ukraine. “It means a great deal, speaking out against Russian aggression,” he said.
The taoiseach, as the Irish prime minister is officially known, in turn thanked Biden for his leadership against Moscow.
“I never thought we’d see a war like this happen in Europe in my lifetime,” Varadkar said, repeating a line often used by Western leaders that his country will stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”
After their meeting, Biden and Varadkar headed to Capitol Hill for a Friends of Ireland Caucus luncheon hosted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, before returning to the White House for a St. Patrick’s Day reception in the evening, where the taoiseach presents the president with a crystal bowl full of shamrocks, as per tradition.
St. Patrick’s Day in-person meetings at the White House and lunch with congressional leaders at the Capitol were suspended the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 44-year-old Varadkar served as prime minister from 2017 to 2020 before returning to the office in December 2022 and was the last Irish leader to visit the White House in person in March 2020 under former president Donald Trump. Biden met with Varadkar’s predecessor, Micheal Martin, virtually in 2021 because of the pandemic, and virtually in 2022, after Martin tested positive for COVID-19 while already in Washington.
With Indian heritage from his father’s side, Varadkar is the first minority taoiseach in the country’s history. He also is the first openly gay Irish leader.
Prior to his White House engagement, Varadkar and his partner, Matthew Barrett, attended a breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, at the vice president’s official residence.