US Congressional Delegation to Fly to London as Northern Ireland Protocol Concerns Grow | Brexit

A delegation of influential US Congressional representatives will fly to London within days amid growing concern in the White House over rising tensions over Northern Ireland’s protocol, the Guardian may reveal.

With the UK government set to introduce legislation next week that could repeal parts of the protocol, arrangements are being made for at least half a dozen US Congressional representatives to fly to Europe for a series of meetings in Brussels, Dublin. , London and Belfast. .

The delegation will be led by the influential Ways and Means Committee Chair Richie Neal, who has significant power over future trade deals.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said earlier that the US intends to appoint its own envoy to Northern Ireland.

Neal, whose interest in Northern Ireland spans more than three decades, said earlier this year that a trade deal was “desirable” but would not progress if there was “any risk” to the Good Friday deal.

The delegation should underline President Biden’s commitment to upholding the Good Friday agreement and the US role as guarantor. He has repeatedly emphasized how integral the protocol is to maintaining peace and stability.

“The best way forward is pragmatic, which requires courage, cooperation and leadership,” a White House spokesman said of the UK’s dispute with the EU.

Boris Johnson is due to deliver a speech on Monday about the protocol’s future following exchanges between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, which a UK source described as “irritating” .

In a phone call, Truss said that unless the EU showed the “necessary flexibility” in negotiations on the trade agreements, it would “have no choice but to act.”

Johnson, who negotiated the protocol as part of the Brexit deal, firmly backed Truss on Thursday, saying that “the institutions created under the Good Friday deal are not working” and that political governance in Northern Ireland has come into conflict. collapse.

“The people of Northern Ireland need leadership, they need regional, provincial government … they don’t have that,” Johnson said after a strategy discussion with ministers.

“This is a real problem. And the reason they don’t have that is because there’s a community in Northern Ireland that doesn’t accept the way the protocol works at the moment – we have to fix that.”

Quick guide

What is the Northern Ireland protocol?

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Within the UK’s Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU, the Northern Ireland protocol sets out arrangements that effectively keep Northern Ireland in the single market, drawing a customs border between it and the rest of the UK, with checks on goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This means that there are no UK-Ireland land border checks required. The 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement requires that the land border be maintained and that there be no new infrastructure such as cameras and border posts.

Nonetheless. both the British government and the European Union recognize that the implementation of this agreement has triggered disruption of supply chains, increased costs and reduced choice for consumers in Northern Ireland.

The rules mean that goods such as milk and eggs must be inspected when they arrive in Northern Ireland from Britain, while some products, such as chilled meats, cannot be imported. This is because the EU does not want to risk them entering the single market across the land border and then being transported.

What is article 16?

Article 16 is an emergency brake on the Irish protocol, which allows either side to take unilateral action if the protocol is causing “serious economic, social or environmental hardship that may persist” or diversion of trade. Serious difficulties are not defined, leaving room for interpretation for both sides.

This would launch a process defined in the treaty as “consultations … with a view to finding a commonly acceptable solution”. Article 16 should be a temporary timeout, not an escape hatch.

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Britain has sent Johnson’s close ally Conor Burns as envoy over protocol to speak to key figures in Washington throughout the week, including a meeting with a special committee of Northern Ireland lawmakers on Friday.

Both Truss and Burns argued that the talks had reached a tipping point because of the impasse in Stormont, where the Democratic Unionist party said it would not re-enter the Northern Ireland executive as long as problems with protocol remain.

On Thursday, Truss and Šefčovič spoke for the first time since it was revealed that the UK was considering introducing a bill to unilaterally replace part of the trade agreements.

The standoff between the two is testing broader relations with the EU at a time when “bigger things” such as Finland’s NATO membership are happening, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Thursday. .

A UK government source said Truss argued that the lack of a functioning executive in Northern Ireland was a key security concern that deserved to be addressed.

“Liz’s main concern in all of this is keeping the Belfast Good Friday deal,” they said. “The protocol is the main cause of political instability – disrupting trade and creating a two-tiered system where people in Northern Ireland are treated differently from the rest of the UK. So it is clear and obvious that we need to change the parts that are not working.

“If the EU doesn’t help us to do this and show more pragmatism, then we will have to take steps to solve these problems. That would be more disappointment than anger.”

David McAllister, a centre-right German MP who chairs the European Parliament’s coordination group in the UK, said the EU was united against renegotiating the protocol.

“The protocol was signed and ratified by both sides. Nobody here in Brussels is interested in starting these complicated new discussions and political struggles,” he said.

Truss said he told Šefčovič that protocol was “the biggest obstacle” to forming a new Northern Ireland executive after last week’s elections. There are no further plans for the pair to speak.

Šefčovič told her that “there was no room to expand the negotiation mandate or come up with new proposals to reduce the general level of commercial fiction,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement. The government called it “regret” that the EU “did not show the necessary flexibility to help solve these problems…so, as a responsible government, we would have no choice but to act”.

Sefčovič said there remained “serious concern that the UK government intends to embark on the path of unilateral action”. He said the EU was still waiting for the UK’s response to proposals made in February. “We made it clear that there is still potential to be explored in our proposals,” he said.

“Unilateral action, effectively disapplying an international agreement like the protocol, is simply not acceptable.”

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