‘Influential’ Members of US Congress to Visit UK Over Northern Ireland Protocol Concerns: Report
Earlier this week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned the EU’s Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic that Britain would scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, if Brussels fails to show the “requisite flexibility” in talks over the matter.
At least half a dozen “influential” members of the US Congress are due to visit the UK within days amid the White House’s concerns about tensions over the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol
, the Guardian has reported.
According to the newspaper, the US delegation headed by Democrat Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, will fly to Europe for a spate of meetings in London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels.
Neal previously said that a UK-US trade deal would not progress if there was “any jeopardy” to the 1998 Good Friday agreement
. The deal, also known as the Belfast Agreement, ended 30 years of violence in conflict-torn Northern Ireland, establishing devolved power-sharing in the area and a demilitarised Irish border.
As for the US delegation, it is expected to underscore President Joe Biden’s adherence to defending the Good Friday agreement and the US’s role as a guarantor.
Referring to the UK’s dispute with the EU over the NI protocol, a White House spokesperson in turn said that “the best path forward is a pragmatic one that requires courage, co-operation and leadership”.
The remarks followed former Brexit minister David Frost making it clear that Biden should stay out of Britain’s domestic affairs.
15 October 2021, 14:22 GMT
“It is our country that faced terrorism, faced the Troubles, [also known as the Northern Ireland conflict]. I am old enough to remember having to check under my car every morning, as a diplomat, before I went to work,” Frost added. The sectarian conflict from about 1968 to 1998 was between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists), who wanted the country to remain part of the UK, and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the republic of Ireland.
Frost’s comments came amid reports that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will deliver a speech on Monday on the future of the NI protocol after “tetchy” exchanges between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic.
A foreign office spokesperson said after the two’s telephone conversation that Truss made it clear that the trading arrangement was "the greatest obstacle" to forming a new Northern Ireland executive.
“The foreign secretary noted this with regret and said the situation in Northern Ireland is a matter of internal peace and security for the United Kingdom, and if the EU would not show the requisite flexibility to help solve those issues, then as a responsible government we would have no choice but to act,” the spokesperson pointed out.
Raab Warns Stability 'at Risk' Over NI Protocol Problems
The statement was preceded by UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab telling Sky News that stability in Northern Ireland was being endangered by problems pertaining to the NI protocol, which regulates Stormont’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Raab made it plain that protocol checks need to be scrapped to resolve power-sharing at Stormont following Sinn Fein’s assembly election success last week, when it became the first Irish nationalist party to win the most seats in Northern Ireland’s parliament.
The deputy prime minister warned that “stability is being put at risk - imperilled if you like - by the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, something that affects communities across the board”. He cautioned that “it’s clear from the dynamic that we now see that we won’t get to that position of stability unless and until [the protocol] is fixed”.
Raab pledged that the UK government will take “whatever measures are necessary” to reform the document, and that the option of Downing Street taking action to tear up the deal without consent with Brussels “has not been taken off the table”.
10 October 2021, 08:42 GMT
Tensions over the NI protocol are currently on the rise amid reports that Truss is preparing to propose legislation that would unilaterally scrap key parts of the document, removing the need for checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Adding fuel to the fire is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)’s refusal to serve with Sinn Fein in an executive unless the London-NI checks on goods agreed upon as part of the Brexit deal are lifted, something that many claim poses a threat to peace in Northern Ireland.
Part of the Brexit agreement that came into force in January 2021 stipulates that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Under the NI protocol, though, all goods and animal-based products coming from the rest of the British territories must be checked upon arrival to ensure their compatibility with EU sanitary regulations.
The UK government has repeatedly argued that the protocol is not working, as it causes delays and interruptions to goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, also infuriating unionists, who believe their place within the UK could be affected, thus threatening the Good Friday Agreement that in 1998 put an end to 30 years of armed conflict in the island.