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Britain will never cave to US pressure over the Northern Ireland Protocol, even if it costs the UK a free trade deal with Washington, the Government said on Friday.
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, had warned Congress would block a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the UK if London discarded the Brexit treaty.
Conor Burns said there could be no link between trade talks with the US and the negotiations with Brussels over the Protocol, which created the Irish Sea border as part of a deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements.
“We seek an ambitious FTA with the US. But there can be no connection between that and doing the right thing for Northern Ireland. None,” Mr Burns, a Northern Ireland minister and Boris Johnson’s special Brexit envoy to the US, said.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has promised to publish legislation allowing the Government to unilaterally override parts of the Protocol, despite EU warnings it risks a trade war.
The Protocol prevents the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland by moving checks on British goods to the Irish Sea rather than the frontier with EU member Ireland.
Ms Pelosi said keeping the border invisible was “absolutely necessary” to uphold the Good Friday Agreement. She said it was “deeply concerning” the UK was seeking to discard the Protocol.
“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.
The UK said the Protocol is undermining the Good Friday Agreement because it doesn’t have the support of unionists.
The DUP is refusing to enter power-sharing in Stormont after the May 5 elections that led to Sinn Fein becoming the largest party for the first time until the Protocol is ripped up or replaced.
“If Nancy Pelosi wants to see the agreement protected, then she has to recognise it is the Protocol undermining the agreement,” DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said.
‘UK has moved too far’
Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach of Ireland, said: “The current UK Government has moved too far in a unilateral way [...] in my view that is not fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which involves collaboration and working together.”
He told Good Morning Ulster ahead of a visit to Belfast to meet political leaders that the UK had “moved the goalposts” during negotiations over the Protocol.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, met with Liz Truss in Turin on Friday. She told him the UK preference was to negotiate a deal with the EU and said Britain would uphold the Good Friday Agreement.
“I made clear Ireland’s opposition to the UK breaching international law. The UK needs to get back to talks with the EU,” Mr Coveney said on Friday.
The European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic said the “only way” to protect the peace agreement was through “joint solutions” rather than unilateral action after meeting pro-Protocol US congressmen in Brussels.
Tory backbencher John Redwood said the US threat was similar to Barack Obama’s warning that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for any US trade deal if voters backed Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“Maybe they should learn a majority of UK voters do not accept bullying from abroad,” he said and dismissed Ms Pelosi’s warning as “idle threats”.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said a UK decision to make unilateral changes to the Protocol could start a trade war with the EU that could then tip the UK into a recession.
“In a cost of living crisis and teetering on the edge of recession, pitching us into a trade dispute with the EU could be what tips us over,” she said after talks in Edinburgh with Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s leading candidate in the Northern Ireland elections.