Do dashed hopes of US trade deal pave the way for a solution on the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Thu 23 Sept 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

With the likelihood of a UK-US trade deal kicked into the long grass, some commentators are postulating that it could focus minds on a solution to the problems around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The UK was unwilling to align with EU standards during the Brexit negotiations to keep a free hand in signing a trade deal with the US.

As this is now off the table, Politico poses the question, “could there be a greater willingness by London to align closer with the single market?”

However, Politico notes another possible outcome of the delayed US deal being that a Boris Johnson government becomes even more committed to maintaining the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Keep it cordial

At the same time, Johnson cannot afford to antagonise Washington after US President Joe Biden reiterated how important he considers the protocol to maintaining peace in Ireland.

As covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, Biden said he felt “very strongly” about the protocol and that the US had “spent an enormous amount of time and effort” on Ireland.

Over by Christmas

Relations between the EU and UK over the protocol seem to be coming to a head. European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic briefed European ministers that the EU aims to have all outstanding issues related to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements resolved by the end of the year, reports the Irish Times.

“What we need to focus on is the practical problems that people and businesses are facing,” said Sefcovic, who briefed EU ministers after his recent visit to Northern Ireland.

Sefcovic is expected to outline proposals in the coming days to ease the impact of the protocol, including adjustments to European legislation on medicines, tweaks to agrifood checks, and customs.

Eustice explains

However, Britain’s environment secretary George Eustice told Sky News that the UK would continue to insist on a revision to the protocol. Eustice also claimed president Biden didn’t “understand” the issue, and was just “reading the headlines.”

Eustice told Sky presenter Kay Burley: “We will obviously explain to the United States effectively it is tantamount to saying that potatoes grown in one part of the United States can’t be sold in another part of the United States.”

The Times reports that Boris Johnson declined to endorse Eustice’s views, while in the US.

Asked if he agreed, the prime minister said of his meeting with Biden: “I don’t think it came up at all. We had a meeting of over 90 minutes and it wasn’t raised.”

Following Eustice’s interview, government sources told Sky News that the EU is wrong about the protocol, not the US.

A source said: “What he meant to say is that we agree with the US that nothing must undermine the Belfast Agreement.”