US raises concerns about NI protocol Bill with London ‘at multiple levels’

Current situation not conducive environment for negotiation of US-UK trade deal, says senior official

The Biden administration has raised concerns “at multiple levels” with the British government, including secretary of state Antony Blinken, in recent days over planned legislation that would allow it to unilaterally disapply key provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

It has essentially urged the British government not to move ahead on its own and that it should seek to resolve differences over the implementation of the protocol in dialogue with the European Union.

The White House administration believes that while there is no formal linkage between the planned British legislation and a free trade deal with the United States, “the current situation does not create a conducive environment for that”.

A senior Biden administration official told The Irish Times that its overarching view was that any changes to the protocol “must be the product of a negotiated agreement with Brussels that are adopted into UK law”.

It is understood that among those who raised Northern Ireland issues in recent days was Mr Blinken – who had talked to UK foreign secretary Liz Truss.

Significantly, given London’s continued interest in a trade deal with the US, the issue was raised by US trade representative Katherine Tai in discussions with UK secretary of state for international trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

A senior administration official said the concerns of Washington regarding the planned Northern Ireland protocol legislation had also been raised with the British in conversations at “different levels of government”.

US president Joe Biden is expected to meet British prime minister Boris Johnson at the meeting of the G7 leaders in Germany at the weekend.

The administration official did not forecast that Mr Biden would raise the protocol legislation at the summit. However, the official said “certainly on any prior occasion Northern Ireland is an issue that has come up in their conversations”.

The senior official said that over the last week there had been concern in the Biden administration at the British plans for new legislation on the protocol.

“We have conveyed this at multiple levels to the British Government,” the official said.

Mr Blinken and Ms Tai urged there should be “good faith” negotiations between the British and the EU on the protocol.

“The priority [of the administration] remains very much the protection of the gains from the Good Friday Agreement,” the senior official said.

“President Biden feels very strongly about this and is very much committed preserving the peace, stability and prosperity that came from the agreement for all the people of Northern Ireland.”

The senior administration official said that Washington welcomed the Brexit withdrawal agreement reached between the UK and the EU as well as the protocol “as a way to manage the practical challenges of preserving the distinct EU and UK markets while preventing a return of customs infrastructure on the land border”.

The administration recognised that there were “challenges” regarding the implementation of the protocol but, the senior official said, it was important that the UK and the EU sought to resolve their differences in talks.

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