Brexit: US delegation to visit UK as Northern Ireland crisis deepens

Growing signs of alarm in Washington at Boris Johnson’s apparent readiness to tear up deal

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 13 May 2022 10:56 BST
A sign on a lamppost outside Larne Port with the words ‘No Irish Sea Border’ (PA)
A sign on a lamppost outside Larne Port with the words ‘No Irish Sea Border’ (PA) (PA Archive)

A delegation of senior US politicians is expected to visit the UK for talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol, amid growing signs in Washington of concerns over Boris Johnson’s threats to tear up parts of the deal.

The visit comes amid growing expectation that Mr Johnson will next week unveil legislation to unilaterally suspend elements of the treaty with the EU, which he negotiated and signed in 2019, but which he now blames for disrupting trade and threatening the Good Friday Agreement.

The delegation of around half a dozen Congress representatives is expected to hold meetings in Brussels, Dublin, London and Belfast over the coming days as the stand-off between the UK and EU comes to a head.

It will be led by Richie Neal, the influential chair of the ways and means committee, which has significant power over future trade deals, according to The Guardian.

There have already been indications of American alarm at the increasingly belligerent tone taken by foreign secretary Liz Truss in talks with the EU, with the White House this week urging both sides to “continue engaging in dialogue to resolve differences”.

A pair of influential congressmen wrote to Ms Truss on Wednesday to warn her that a unilateral breach of the protocol would be “in direct violation of international law and squarely threaten the Good Friday Agreement”.

In a phone conversation described as “tetchy” on Thursday morning, Ms Truss told European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič that the UK would have “no choice but to act” unless the EU accepted demands to relax checks on goods moving between the British mainland and Northern Ireland.

The customs border in the Irish Sea was agreed by Mr Johnson in order to ensure an open border between the Republic and the North, but has disrupted the movement of goods – as many warned at the time that it would.

The unionist DUP is refusing to re-enter power-sharing arrangements at Stormont until the protocol is removed.

Mr Šefčovič said that the EU would not respond “threats and blackmail” from the UK and insisted that the protocol was not up for renegotiation.

No deadline has been set by Downing Street for an EU climbdown.

But attorney general Suella Braverman last night said that – while “there is a decision yet to be made” within cabinet - action was becoming “painfully, apparently necessary”.

Ms Braverman has reportedly submitted evidence accusing Brussels of undermining the Good Friday Agreement by creating a trade barrier in the Irish Sea. She also warned of “societal unrest” in the region.

But Ireland’s minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said was it “completely, completely and utterly incorrect” to pin the blame for any unrest on Brussels.

The attorney general’s assessment echoed that of the prime minister, who told reporters in Stoke-on-Trent that the protocol has become a “real problem” which must be “fixed” because the “institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement aren’t functioning” and political governance in Northern Ireland has “collapsed”.

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