Will the US save the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Washington delegation heading to UK amid stand-off over post-Brexit trade plan

Joe Biden has repeatedly warned the UK against jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement
Joe Biden has repeatedly warned the UK against jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement
(Image credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

An influential delegation of US lawmakers is heading to London as concern grows in Washington over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Following Boris Johnson’s threat to rip up parts of the post-Brexit trade deal, the White House has dispatched “at least half a dozen representatives from the US Congress” for a series of meetings in Brussels, Dublin, London and Belfast, The Guardian reported.

The group will be led by Richie Neal, the “influential” chair of the House of Representatives’ ways and means committee, “which has significant power over future trade deals”, the paper said.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

US-Irish relations

Concern in the White House stems from Joe Biden’s commitment to preserving the Good Friday Agreement and Washington’s role as its guarantor. The president has repeatedly stated how integral the protocol is to maintaining peace and stability.

That Neal is being sent to lead the US delegation also underscores that concern. His “interest in Northern Ireland stretches over three decades”, The Guardian said. He also made clear earlier this year that while a US-UK trade deal was “desirable”, it would not progress if there was “any jeopardy” to the Good Friday Agreement.

Neal, one of the US’s “leading Irish-American politicians”, has also called on “political leaders in Northern Ireland to re-establish a government” as quickly as possible, The Irish Times reported following elections last 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.

“All parties must stay the course to find durable solutions to implement the [Northern Ireland Protocol] and preserve peace and stability on the island.”

Man on the ground

As fear increases in the White House that the UK could move to “override” the protocol, The Times reported that President Biden is “on the verge of appointing a special US envoy to Northern Ireland”.

In a letter to the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, two senior US congressmen warned the UK government that its plans on the protocol are in “direct confrontation” with the “wishes of the majority of elected officials” in the Northern Ireland assembly.

Bill Keating, who sits on the House foreign affairs committee, and Brendan Boyle, co-chairman of the congressional EU caucus, added that “the ‘worst possible outcome of Brexit’ would be one that led to ‘violence and upheaval’ in Northern Ireland”.

They also warned that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it clear that the White House believed it needed its own envoy on the ground in Northern Ireland, “in line with our historical role as a good faith arbiter”.

What next?

A White House spokesperson responded to questions about the delegation led by Neal by telling The Guardian that “the best path forward is a pragmatic one that requires courage, co-operation and leadership”.

“We urge the parties to continue engaging in dialogue to resolve differences and bring negotiations to a successful conclusion,” they added.

But the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator David Frost hit out at the White House’s intervention, telling an event in Washington that the government is “well aware of how serious conflict in Northern Ireland would be” and accusing the Biden administration of failing to understand the “niceties” of Northern Ireland, Politico reported.

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

In an opinion piece for The Telegraph, the former Brexit minister again attacked the arrangement this morning, arguing that “none of us could have imagined that the Protocol would get the handling it got” and accusing the EU of “weaponising” it against the UK.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.