The US government has warned that Boris Johnson’s move to unilaterally axe some of the Northern Ireland Brexit arrangements protocol was a matter of continuing concern and “not conducive” to a trade deal.
Senior officials have hit back at suggestions that the lack of public commentary by the Biden administration meant it was not troubled by the move to bring in new laws to ditch part of the Brexit deal signed in 2020.
They said the administration recognised there were “challenges” with the protocol, but added that unilateral action was not in anyone’s best interests.
“It’s fair to say that the administration has concerns about the legislation. The administration does not believe that unilateral steps are going to be the most effective way to address the challenges facing the implementation of the protocol, and that our strong desire remains to see the UK and the EU return to talks and find a negotiated agreement,” a senior administration official said.
The remarks came after Johnson’s government defied a chorus of criticism and the threat of a trade war with the EU to push ahead with legislation to enable unilateral action and scrap checks on goods going into Northern Ireland from Great Britain as mandated under the NI protocol.
They also put paid to inferences that the criticism by a recent bipartisan congressional delegation was limited to the Irish caucus on Capitol Hill and heavily influenced by Sinn Féin.
The Biden administration has also clarified remarks by the White House spokesperson last week that there would be no link between the UK’s unilateral action and trade talks between Washington and London. “It is true that there is no formal linkage between the protocol and a free trade agreement, but the current situation does not create a conducive environment,” the insider said.
Asked about the legality of the move, the senior source countered: “I think as a broad matter, it’s a desire to avoid unilateral approaches and see a return to negotiations, to be able to reach a negotiated agreement with the EU that’s adopted in UK law.”
The Biden administration conveyed its concerns to the Northern Ireland minister, Conor Burns, when he was dispatched to Washington to convince the White House that the move was necessary because the protocol risked a return to violence.
“We view a negotiated resolution to differences over the protocol as a net win for Northern Ireland’s economy and political stability in the long term for all communities and believe that economic prosperity is in everyone’s interest,” the source said.
The UK introduced draft legislation last week that it said would enable it to scrap checks on goods destined to remain in Northern Ireland. Johnson claimed the move would lead to “relatively trivial” measures. But it has enraged Brussels, which is now threatening legal action, and threatens to split the Conservative party.