UK envoy has a message for American politicians on Northern Ireland

UK envoy has a message for American politicians on Northern Ireland

May 31, 2022

EXCLUSIVE American politicians are the ones putting the Good Friday Agreement at risk: Boris Johnson’s envoy calls Nancy Pelosi’s threat to block US-UK trade deal over Northern Ireland Protocol unhelpful

  • American politicians do not understand UK plans to modify the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to Boris Johnson’s envoy on the issue
  • ‘It is actually the absolute reverse of what some suggest here,’ said Conor Burns 
  • The Protocol is designed to keep the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland frictionless
  • It imposes EU checks on goods shipped to Northern Ireland from the mainland 
  • But it has created a huge bureaucratic burden for companies, said Burns 
  • He is visiting Washington to set out London’s position

American politicians who accuse the British government of undermining the Good Friday Agreement with plans to dump the Northern Ireland Protocol are the ones standing in the way of restoring the devolved government set up by the historic peace deal, according to Boris Johnson’s envoy to Washington.

Conor Burns, a Northern Ireland minister and confidant of Johnson, said his government was simply not planning to ditch the Protocol – a mechanism to ensure the free flow of goods from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.

His comments, during the second of three week-long visits to win over American skeptics, reflect British concern about rhetoric coming from Washington. 

And there is growing anger that Irish-American politicians, who for years were associated with the hardline Irish Republican movement, have little understanding of the intricacies and nuance of Britain’s relationship with modern Ireland. 

Burns said no one was talking about ‘tearing up’ or ‘throwing away’ the Protocol. 

Instead it was a ‘recalibration’ to improve the flow of goods into Northern Ireland and pare back a bewildering amount of bureaucracy.

‘And the reality is – there’s no escaping this, it is the Protocol as it is today that is the reason we are not having restored devolved government in Northern Ireland,’ he told DailyMail.com.

‘So it is actually the absolute reverse of what some suggest here. 

‘It is in fact the Protocol that poses the existential threat to the institutions born out of the Belfast, Good Friday agreement.’

Conor Burns, a UK Northern Ireland minister, is a close ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and has been sent to Washington to speak to senior figures. He has brought a thick dossier setting out problems caused by the Northern Protocol in its current form

Johnson’s government has laid out a plan to modify with the Protocol, which governs goods shipped to Northern Ireland, to include a green channel and a red channel so that items staying in Northern Ireland do not need to undergo European Union customs checks

The Protocol was the result of negotiations between London and the European Union on how to keep an open border between the two Irelands after Brexit.

It means goods traveling from the UK mainland must pass E.U. customs checks before they arrive in Northern Ireland.

However, Burns has brought a thick dossier of complaints from companies describing the time and cost needed to meet the new regulations.

There is an English cheese company that has stopped shipping its products to Northern Ireland. 

Supermarkets there now only stock one brand of shortbread because of veterinary checks related to its butter content. 

And there is a complete embargo on shipping organic food. 

In the meantime, Unionists are blocking the formation of a new Northern Ireland government until the problems are addressed.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has unveiled plans to solve the problem by modifying the protocol, setting up a green channel – with no checks for goods that would stay in Northern Ireland – and a red channel – for items that could then travel on to the Republic of Ireland.

It brought howls of outrage in Washington. A slew of politicians accused the UK of planning to abandon the protocol, allowing a ‘hard border’ between north and south, and  undermining the Good Friday peace deal. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused the Johnson government of seeking to ‘discard’ the Northern Ireland Protocol and said she would block any US-UK trade agreement

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, ending most of the violence associated with ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. It restored a devolved government, established cross-border cooperation and overhauled the policing system

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among the most blunt.

‘It is deeply concerning that the United Kingdom is now seeking to unilaterally discard the Northern Ireland Protocol,’ she said. 

And she issued a threat.

‘As I have stated in my conversations with the prime minister, the foreign secretary and members of the House of Commons, if the United Kingdom chooses to undermine the Good Friday Accords, the Congress cannot and will not support  a bilateral free trade agreement with the United Kingdom,’ she said.

Not only did that misrepresent the British government’s plans, said Burns, but it was not helpful to link the protocol to other foreign policy issues.

‘To tell somebody that you won’t give them something that they are telling you they will not entertain conditionality on is not something that assists us either in finding the solution to the protocols implementation, or indeed to getting to a trade agreement,’ he said.

‘I have been incredibly clear with everyone I’ve spoken to from State to the administration to the Hill to business, that doing the right thing on the protocol, to fix it for Northern Ireland, to see a restoration of stable and devolved government in Northern Ireland is too important for us to be intertwined or intermeshed or caught up in any foreign policy or free trade ambition.’ 

He spoke after meetings on Tuesday with business leaders and the Ad Hoc committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement.

Throughout his meetings, he said he had sought to explain the modifications as a technical solution to unintended consequences of the protocol that had emerged in the past 18 months.

‘What is very important for what I’m trying to do here and what the government is trying to do more widely, is to take the protocol away from politics and take it back to process,’ he said.

‘This is about finding solutions around the movement of goods within the British Isles in a post-Brexit environment.’

Failure to find a solution would mean that the devolved government in Belfast could not be formed, he said, casting a shadow over next year’s 25th anniversary of the agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

‘President Biden should be in Belfast next April celebrating the US role in that landmark international agreement that has meant that a young person born in Northern Ireland in the last 25 years grows up in a radically different environment one to I was born into in North Belfast 50 years ago this September. 

‘The reality is because of the lack of cross-community support for the Protocol as it is currently being implemented and interpreted that Protocol could mean that at the 25th anniversary the institutions born out of the Belfast Good Friday agreement may not be functioning.’ 

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