Will we get a US trade deal? Northern Ireland protocol raises tensions

Northern Ireland Protocol: Expert on US ‘interference’

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UK Foreign secretary Liz Truss announced the Government’s plans to table the Northern Ireland protocol in an effort to amend areas that “strain” the Good Friday Agreement. This announcement has been met with mixed reactions – favourably from unionists and loyalists, and much less so from others, including Brussels and Washington. The US has urged Britain to step back from these plans as it could “jeopardize peace” in the region.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic criticised the plans, warning if Britain did not find a solution to resolve trade difficulties within the framework of the Protocol, the EU might be forced to “retaliate”.

Ms Truss has so far resisted pressure from US President Joe Biden to pull back, recently stating how it’s not possible to resolve the Northern Ireland Protocol issues on the basis of the “EU’s existing mandate”.

Ms Truss told the Irish Times after 18 months of trying to make the Protocol work, “it is clear the current arrangements are not sustainable”.

“Since June last year, we have been pushing a comprehensive and reasonable solution to deliver on our shared objectives for the Protocol.”

“Our firm preference is to reach a negotiated solution. I have led six months of talks with my EU counterpart, Vice-President Maros Sefcovic to try to reach solutions on the basis of the EU’s current mandate.

“Despite our intensive efforts in those talks, it has become clear that it will not be possible to resolve the issues Northern Ireland is facing on the basis of the EU’s existing mandate.

“This is because the problems of the Protocol are baked into the existing legal text. Without changes to this mandate, we cannot fix the problems.”

The UK Government is hoping to ease customs formalities on goods transported from Britain to Northern Ireland under the Protocol. However, the EU argues further concessions would undermine its single market – the unified trading territory the UK opted out of.

Further pressure stems from the DUP, which sees the Protocol as a wedge between Northern Ireland and the UK as it stands and in response, is refusing to join the coalition government until major reforms take shape.

However, US house speaker Nancy Pelosi has already rebuked the plans, saying Congress “cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement” with the UK if it undermines the arrangement.

Washington warns overriding the Protocol could put the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – the peace deal that ended decades of violence and created a power-sharing government – at risk.

Bill Keating, a congressman with Mr Biden’s Democrats told Times Radio: “If this occurs, moving forward with a UK-US trade agreement will be scuttled.

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“That’s just the reality of what will happen here – not a threat but a reality check.”

The UK is currently expecting to sign up to six trade deals with the US by the end of the year.

UK Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “There will be about half a dozen probably across the course of the year as we crystallise what the different states are looking to release with us through MOUs.”

“It’s mostly around services but there will be some opportunities for procurement to access.”

The Government’s attention has largely been focused on liberalising trade with the US on a state-by-state level, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson held up a US trade deal as one of the great prizes of Brexit.

However, US Congress needs to approve trade agreements that significantly lower tariffs, and as Mr Biden has repeatedly warned of tensions the Protocol could strike up if overridden, the likeliness of Washington agreeing remains slim.

Alexander Bobroske, an expert on relations between the UK, US, and EU at the Global Counsel firm told Politico: “The response will be very subtle and it will be hard to decipher.”

“I don’t think it would be anything explicitly said,” he noted — but brace for “foot-dragging” on trade ties into the summer as Mr Biden’s team waits to see how events unfold.

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