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The US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has warned that unilateral UK legislation affecting the Northern Ireland protocol could endanger British prospects for a free trade deal with the US.
Pelosi’s bluntly worded intervention came two days after the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, confirmed that the government was planning to table legislation that would nullify parts of the protocol by exempting some goods moving between Great Britain and Ireland from EU customs checks.
Pelosi made clear that she viewed the protocol as essential to maintaining the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement which minimised border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Northern Ireland protocol was the outcome of negotiations with the EU on how to keep the frictionless border between the Irelands and maintain EU customs boundaries after Brexit.
“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,” the Speaker said in a written statement. The EU has already warned of a potential trade war if the UK moves ahead with its legislation.
“It is deeply concerning that the United Kingdom now seeks to unilaterally discard the Northern Ireland protocol, which preserves the important progress and stability forged by the accords. It continues to enjoy strong bipartisan and bicameral support in the United States Congress,” Pelosi added.
The warning follows a visit to Washington by the prime minister’s newly appointed special envoy for the Northern Ireland protocol in the US, Conor Burns, to explain the UK position to the Biden administration and to Congress, which is to blame the EU for inflexibility.
US officials were irritated however that Burns, having emphasised his close personal relationship with Boris Johnson, had not warned them that Johnson was about to visit Northern Ireland. Burns assured them that no decisions had been made on whether to pursue new legislation, days before Truss made her announcement.
“Respectful of the will of the British people and of Brexit, I urge constructive, collaborative and good-faith negotiations to implement an agreement that upholds peace,” Pelosi wrote on Thursday evening. “The children of Northern Ireland, who have never known the bloody conflict and do not want to go back, deserve a future free of the violence where all may reach their fulfillment.”