US sends in politicians for meetings as appointment of special envoy to Northern Ireland is mooted

Fri 13 May 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

A high-powered US congress delegation is on its way to Europe for a series of meetings amid growing White House concern about negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

With the latest talks between foreign secretary Liz Truss and her counterpart Maros Sefcovic ending without resolve yesterday (Thursday) and with the UK seemingly set on abandoning parts of the deal, the move underlines US president Joe Biden’s commitment to the Good Friday Agreement – of which the US is a guarantor.

The Guardian reports that the group of half a dozen politicians includes Richie Neal, the chair of the influential ways and means committee, which has significant power over trade deals.

US interest

Neal is a leading Irish-American politician, who has also called on “political leaders in Northern Ireland to re-establish a government” as quickly as possible following recent elections, reports The Week.

“The people of Northern Ireland just underwent a seismic election, and now, their newly-elected officials must carry out their democratic duty through the power-sharing institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

Neal said earlier this year that a trade deal was “desirable” but that it would not progress if there was “any jeopardy” to the Good Friday Agreement.

NI envoy appointment

The Times reports that Washington DC concern about British plans to override the protocol, make the appointment of a special US envoy to Northern Ireland “imminent”.

In a letter to Truss, two senior US congressmen warned that a unilateral move against the protocol was in “direct confrontation” with the “wishes of the majority of elected officials” in the NI Assembly.

They said that Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, had made it clear that the White House believed it needed its own envoy on the ground in Northern Ireland.

Biden ‘doesn’t understand’

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost has used a visit to the US to urge politicians there to keep out of the spat, reports Politico.

He told a Heritage Foundation event in Washington DC that president Biden does not understand the “niceties” of Northern Ireland.

“We don’t need lectures from others about the peace process,” he said, adding that it was “unreasonable and unfair” for Washington to refuse a trade deal with the UK until the protocol issue is solved. 

‘No deal with US’

According to former Bank of England MPC member Andrew Posen, a US-UK trade deal is “never going to happen”, reports City AM.

Speaking at a City conference, Posen said the political wind in Washington was blowing the wrong way.

“The US Congress … doesn’t want to approve any trade deals of any kind with anybody,” he said. “Then you throw in Northern Ireland. This is never going to happen.”

Britain has made some progress in talks with the US through a series of ‘transatlantic dialogues’ designed to bolster relations.

It is also pursuing a number of state level deals and has ended the long-running issue of steel tariffs on UK exports to the US.