US delegation sends warning to British Government over unilateral protocol plans

A bipartisan US congressional delegation is due to meet Irish premier Micheal Martin in Dublin.

Cate McCurry
Monday 23 May 2022 15:58
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre) with the bipartisan US congressional delegation (Sinn Fein/PA)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre) with the bipartisan US congressional delegation (Sinn Fein/PA)

A delegation of politicians from the United States has warned the British Government that unilaterally removing the Northern Ireland Protocol “will not work”.

Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee urged Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to engage in face-to-face negotiations with Brussels to resolve the outstanding issues.

It comes as the bipartisan US congressional delegation met with Irish premier Micheal Martin on Monday in Dublin.

Congressman Richard Neal (Niall Carson/PA)

The delegation, led by senior Democrat Richard Neal, is visiting Ireland and Northern Ireland this week amid ongoing tensions caused by the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Mr Kildee met with Ms Truss over the weekend.

“It’s important, and we stress this, that the (British Government) negotiate and that they not take unilateral action,” Mr Kildee told RTE Morning Ireland.

“I think that was the very first point that was pressed by our delegation, most particularly Richie Neal.

“The only way we can come to agreement, the only way we protect the incredible progress that’s represented with the Good Friday Agreement, is face-to-face negotiation.

“It is disappointing to see unilateral action being considered, we stressed that that was not the approach that we recommend, but again, difficult to determine their motivation.

“We don’t believe that is the proper path. We think unilateral solutions will not work, face-to-face negotiation to work out some of these technical questions can be achieved and that’s what we currently recommend.”

He said there was no indication the British Government intends to “change course”.

“The purpose of the meeting was to make sure it was very clear to them what our position is and has been the position of chairman Neal, Nancy Pelosi, and the American government in general supports that we don’t believe that will lead to a positive outcome,” he added.

“We think it’s best, whenever there is a difference, to sit down across the table and negotiate toward a common purpose.

“It’s interesting that is the history that we celebrate when we think about the incredible benefits of the Good Friday Agreement, a very difficult, long-standing dispute resolved through negotiation.

“That’s a lesson that not only the rest of the world should learn, but we would hope that the parties involved now, the UK Government would recognise that’s the way to resolve these differences.”

The group repeated a warning that there will not be a US-UK trade agreement if any damage is caused to the Good Friday Agreement as a result of unilateral action.

“That’s been articulated by the speaker and now having had both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, who don’t agree on everything, there are many things we disagree on but we agree on that point and we’ve made it very clear to each and every person that we’ve met with on this delegation trip,” Mr Kildee added.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Martin said the only way to resolve the protocol challenges is through intensive negotiations between the European Union and the British government.

Mr Martin met with Northern Ireland political leaders and businesses last week to discuss the effects of the protocol.

For other sectors, like consumer-facing areas and retail, there are difficulties and there are challenges that have been legitimately raised

Micheal Martin

“I met with all the political parties on Friday and crucially I also met with industry and with the Brexit business working group.

“They had some interesting research which shows that 65% of companies were now managing the protocol quite effectively,” Mr Martin said on Monday.

“For many sectors like meat production and for the manufacturing sector in the North and for agriculture, like diary, the protocol is actually essential, is how they put it, and has been very advantageous.

“For other sectors, like consumer-facing areas and retail, there are difficulties and there are challenges that have been legitimately raised.

“The only way to resolve those challenges is through intensive discussions and negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom government.”

The group also met with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin.

Speaking after, Ms McDonald said: “I thanked the members of the US Congress for their continued support of the Good Friday Agreement, for peace and for progress in Ireland.

“There would be no Agreement without the US. The progress we have made since 1998 has been due to the diligence and commitment of US political leaders who have acted as guarantors of our agreements.

The resolution to the implementation of the protocol will be found in negotiations between the EU and British government free from threats of unilateral action

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

“These agreements face challenges from a British government that plays fast and loose with international law and places narrow Tory party concerns above the needs of the people and economy of the north.

“We all agree the way forward is clear – the DUP need to get back to work and stop blocking the formation of an Executive.

“The British government must abide by international law.

“The resolution to the implementation of the protocol will be found in negotiations between the EU and British government free from threats of unilateral action.”

Meanwhile, DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said his party would be stressing the difficulties the Northern Ireland Protocol is causing during meetings with the US delegation this week.

Mr Lyons told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme: “Rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements, the protocol actually damages them.

So we need to get that message across that the protocol is not protecting the Good Friday Agreement and that is why we need this issue dealt with quickly

DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons

“It is causing economic difficulty, it is causing societal problems and it is very clearly causing divergence of trade, and of course it is causing political instabilities.

“So we need to get that message across that the protocol is not protecting the Good Friday Agreement and that is why we need this issue dealt with quickly.”

There has been controversy over the Northern Ireland Protocol since its inception.

Created to avoid the return of checkpoints along the Irish border, after years of negotiation it was agreed that new Brexit regulatory and customs processes would be placed along the Irish Sea.

Both London and Brussels agreed to this as part of the final Brexit negotiations.

Since its implementation in early 2021, the EU and UK agree that the protocol does not work as smoothly as it should, and both sides engaged in further negotiations.

Grace periods were introduced for some new Brexit trade rules in the protocol, meaning retailers and exporters do not yet have to adhere to all the checks and standards required.

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