Why is Joe Biden being called 'anti-British'?

The Irish-American president, whose family originally hails from Co. Mayo in Ireland, has long touted his Celtic roots.

What's happening? The White House has defended US president Joe Biden against allegations he is anti-British, after rumours of his dislike of the nation spread like wildfire ahead of his visit to the UK and Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this week.

The Irish-American president, whose family originally hails from Co Mayo and Co Louth in the Republic of Ireland, has long touted his Celtic roots and has previously referenced his family's dislike of the British monarchy.

But the White House insisted this did not mean the president was anti-British, while the senior director for Europe at the US National Security Council, Amanda Sloat, also dismissed the idea.

"It's simply untrue – the fact that the president is going to be engaging for the third time in three months, and then again next month and then again in June, with the prime minister of the UK shows how close our co-operation is with the UK," she said.

She added: "President Biden obviously is a very proud Irish-American, he is proud of those Irish roots, but he is also a strong supporter of our bilateral partnership with the UK, and not only on a bilateral basis within Nato, the G7, on the UN Security Council, and we truly are working in lockstep with the British government on all of the pressing global challenges that our countries are facing."

Speaking at Ulster University during a one-day visit to Belfast on Wednesday, Biden surprised listeners by revealing his family connections to the English city of Nottingham in what was deemed by many to be an attempt to show he had not written out his ties to the UK.

After making a few jokes about his heritage, he then mentioned potential relatives from the East Midlands, adding: "So I don’t know what the hell’s going on here. Can you come back? It’s confusing. Anyway."

However, later in the day when in the Republic, Biden made a gaffe confusing the notorious British Black and Tans military force with the All Blacks rugby team.

Speaking in Dundalk, Co Louth – where his family originates from – Biden said he had been given a shamrock tie by a rugby player who "beat the hell out of the Black and Tans".

The president's team later published his remarks making it clear that he had intended to say "the All Blacks" rugby team, but his error did not go unnoticed.

The Black and Tans were a British military force that brutally suppressed Irish republicans during the War of Independence, and the remark may be taken by some as a slight.

Yahoo News UK explains why Biden's feelings on Britain have been called into question.

What Biden has said

Biden has long paid homage to his Irish family, and has made several comments suggesting they were not keen on the English, as well as reportedly making a series of English jokes throughout the years.

The president famously once said his mother, Catherine Finnegan, hated the English so much that she would rather sleep on the floor than sleep in a bed where the monarch had slept.

Ahead of a visit to England following his inauguration, he revealed that his mother had advised him not to bow to the Queen.

"When I told my mother I was going to have an audience with the Queen of England, the first thing she said was, 'Don't you bow down to her,'" he wrote in his autobiography Promises to Keep.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - APRIL 12: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a speech at Ulster University on April 12, 2023 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. US President Joe Biden spends the day in Belfast meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and delivering a speech at Ulster University. His visit marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace deal which ended 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Joe Biden delivers a speech at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 12 April. His visit marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. (Getty Images)

What the politicians say

Among those questioning Biden's views were unionists including DUP politicians, who described the US president as "anti-British".

DUP MP Sammy Wilson told The Telegraph that Biden was “pro-republican", adding: "He has made his antipathy towards protestants in particular very well-known.

“He has fully backed the EU in this whole protocol process; he's refusing to come to the coronation. I don't think any of us are rushing through the door to greet him."

Meanwhile, the former DUP first minister of Northern Ireland, Dame Arlene Foster, told GB News: "Joe Biden hates the UK – I don't think there's any doubt about that."

However, Rishi Sunak appeared to brush off any concerns over Biden's views on Britain, and the fact that the leaders spent a short amount of time together during Biden's visit – stressing there are two meetings between the pair coming up in May and June.

"[Biden] and I had a very good discussion today about a range of issues, economic investment in Northern Ireland, but also a range of foreign policy issues, the importance of economic security, and that comes on the back of a meeting I had with him last month in the US," Sunak said.

"We are very close partners and allies, we cooperate and talk on a range of things – whether that is supporting Ukraine or as I said economic security. I think, actually, the relationship is in great shape and the president and I have lots we are working on together."

President Joe Biden meets with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Biden met Rishi Sunak in Belfast on Wednesday. (AP Photo)

Why does it matter?

Biden's visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland marked 25 years since the signing of the landmark Good Friday Agreement, which was a huge development in the peace process.

The suggestion that Biden is anti-British has angered unionists, and comes at a time of instability.

The DUP is currently boycotting Stormont over the Brexit trade agreement that it previously claimed created a sea border between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland.

There were suggestions from Biden allies that he would attempt to persuade the DUP to return to Stormont, a move that UK former prime minister Tony Blair warned against.

“There is a difference between influencing and pressurising... the one tends to be positive, the other can be negative," sad Blair, who was one of the signatories of the Good Friday Agreement.

The sentiment landed polled poorly with DUP politicians.

Nigel Dodds, DUP peer, told The Independent: "Pressure from an American administration which is so transparently pro-nationalist constitutes no pressure on us at all."