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Sending a Trevelyan to woo O’Biden must be a bad joke

Sending Anne-Marie Trevelyan to win over Joe Biden is laughable, and illogical.

A giant painting of Joe Biden on the side of a pub in his ancestral hometown of Ballina, County Mayo. Photo: Paul Faith/ AFP via Getty Images.

Imagine that you’re in the writers’ room at the American comedy show Saturday Night Live, starved for ideas. Then suddenly you have one.

It goes like this: the president of the United States, five-eighths Irish, and renowned for his love of his ancestral country, is scheduled to meet the UK’s international trade secretary.

The UK is desperate for a trade deal with the US, not only because the New York to London air corridor is the busiest on the planet in regards to business, but also because this will show the world what Global Britain is. This alliance will be two fingers up to Les Froggies led by an arrogant young president who has already called the PM “not serious”.

All is set fair for success, even though the president, when asked once to make a comment on Northern Ireland to the BBC, winked, smiled and said: “I’m Irish.” But because the UK is led by a gung-ho PM who is trying to be a new model of his idol, Churchill, none of this will matter.

And so the punchline is this: the international trade secretary he sends to seal the deal is one Anne-Marie Trevelyan, once married to a man named John Trevelyan.

He is a descendant of Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, the civil servant and treasury assistant secretary who was in charge of famine relief during what is known in Ireland as the Great Hunger, and whose inaction and negative attitude towards the Irish are widely blamed for making a bad situation even worse.

In one letter, dated 29 April 1846, Trevelyan wrote: “Our measures must proceed with as little disturbance as possible of the ordinary course of private trade, which must ever be the chief resource for the subsistence of the people, but, coûte que coûte (at any cost), the people must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to starve.”

But a million did starve.

The idea of a Trevelyan sent to represent Britain in negotiations with an Irish-American president is so improbable that the audience would be rolling in the aisles in disbelieving laughter as that evening’s host yells: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Biden comes by his Irish Catholic identity honestly. He spent his earliest years surrounded by his mother’s Irish-American family, the Finnegans, in the Irish-American stronghold of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

After the family moved to Delaware, in search of work, the future president was taught by nuns at parochial elementary schools.

St. Patrick’s Day is serious for Joe Biden. His Irish Catholicism is part of his political identity. For one thing, it allowed him to become a part of the love affair that the American people had with JFK and the whole Kennedy Irish Catholic mythology. But his link was with working-class white America.

Whereas John F. Kennedy was the aristocratic “Jack”, Biden was “Average Guy Joe”.

He came to be seen as the heir to the mystical, beautiful America called Camelot, after the hit Broadway musical whose sound dominated the airwaves during the Kennedy presidency.

In short, Joe tried to have some of that. Tried to be that. And even after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, he thought that he could summon it up. But he could not do that. Not after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the toxic atmosphere that began to strangle the credo of non-violence, the urban uprisings, the war in Vietnam, the phenomenon called “Youthquake”.

But the press tried. After the car crash that killed his first wife and daughter and seriously injured his sons, it seemed that Biden, indeed, had inherited part of the Kennedy vibe – the tragic part.

The press made him into a liberal.

But no matter what else he was, he was always, through and through, an Irish Catholic.

The man can recite Seamus Heaney at the drop of a hat. He tells anecdotes about his mother’s kitchen-table wisdom, full of Irish-American vocal mannerisms. Those who say that he is performing this identity are making a grave mistake.

He is so well-known for his Irish identity that Sarah Palin, during the 2008 presidential campaign, mistakenly called him O’Biden.

Biden is an old-school Irish-American politician: no big ideological initiatives: just do the politics at ground level. And he has the bluntness of a typical Irish-American politician.

He has already called Boris Johnson “a physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump.

Last June, when they first met as president and prime minister, they looked at a spruced-up copy of The Atlantic Charter, that statement issued in 1941 in which Churchill and Roosevelt stated their post-war goals. There is a picture of Boris and Biden looking at a copy of it fondly. Yet there was no serious summit.

My money is on Ireland getting a state visit before the UK. When I declared on Question Time that “Ireland owes the UK nothing. No respect. No quarter, nothing,” this is how most Irish-Americans feel.

And no doubt how Joe Biden feels.

If you want to get all factions of America together, throw Ireland into the mix. On that ground, Biden and senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, make common cause: the celebration of Ireland.

Let’s hope that someone briefs the new secretary of state for international trade on what Ireland means, not only to the president but to America.

See inside the 9 December: Now That's What We Call Bullshit edition

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