…as US politicians warn UK government that new bill could jeopardise a UK-US trade deal

Wed 9 Sept 2020
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News


US politicians and advisors to presidential candidate Joe Biden have voiced concerns about the UK government’s plan to override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Internal Market Bill, published today, outlines how the UK government retains the right to “disapply or modify” parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Specifically, these elements relate to state aid and a requirement for customs checks for goods moving from NI to Great Britain.

Leading US Democratic Party members claimed the move would affect the prospects of a UK-US trade deal. 

The US  home to some 33m citizens [10% of the US population] who identify themselves as Irish – is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. The country goes to the polls to elect its 46th president in November.

Anthony Blinken, Biden’s chief foreign policy advisor, tweeted yesterday

“Joe Biden is committed to preserving the hard-earned peace and stability in Northern Ireland. As the UK and EU work out their relationship, any arrangements must protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border." 

Joe Biden’s ‘red line’

Thomas Wright, a US-Europe relations expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said it was “mind-boggling” that the UK was even considering breaching the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

“He is breaching the only red line Biden has when it comes to Brexit which is to protect the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.  

EU and Irish concerns

As UK-EU trade talks restarted yesterday, the European Commission called for an extraordinary meeting with the government on its plans to modify NI trade rules without consulting the EU.

Meanwhile Ireland’s Taoiseach [prime minister] Micheál Martin said he will raise the Irish government’s “very strong concerns” about the UK’s intention to breach the Withdrawal Agreement in a call with Boris Johnson later today.

The Irish Times reports Martin saying the admission by NI Secretary Brandon Lewis in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the bill breaks international law had “taken a lot of people aback across Europe and indeed within the UK”.

The timing of the admission, Martin said, was not conducive to meaningful trade negotiations with the EU.

Lewis told parliament that the bill “does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We’re taking the power to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect … in certain very tightly defined circumstances.”

Irish plan for new customs rules

The UK is Ireland’s chief trading partner and today (Wednesday 9 September) the Irish government will publish its ‘Brexit Ready Action Plan’.

Ireland’s Tánaiste [deputy prime minister] Leo Varadkar said the plan outlines “how we’re going to deal with the next stage of Brexit - whether there is an FTA or not, the UK will leave, we don’t know if there will be quotas or tariffs, but there will be customs procedures, there will be new bureaucracy, there will be checks.

"It’s really about preparing businesses for the reality of that.”