A senior adviser in the Biden administration has urged the UK not to cause more “flare-ups” over Northern Ireland as Brexit talks reopen in London.
In an unusually blunt intervention for a policy adviser, US Department of State counsellor Derek Chollet said the row over the Northern Ireland protocol needed to be resolved.
“The last thing we need is flare-ups right at a moment where transatlantic unity, European unity, is more important than ever. That is our north star,” he said.
“We understand that there’s some practical realities and that adjustments could be made. But we don’t think that unilateral steps are helpful. We want to see the temperature go down on this, and I think, to everyone’s credit, it has in recent weeks,” he added.
Mr Chollet’s comments came during a visit to London before travelling to Northern Ireland on Monday and just hours before Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, landed in London for a bilateral meeting with his British counterpart, James Cleverly.
It is unusual for a state department official to be so frank about their wish for better relations post-Brexit, but it appears Washington senses there is finally a mood in London and Brussels to reach a compromise that the United States can encourage.
The row over the protocol has ruptured Anglo-Irish and British-European relations, and cast a shadow over the United Kingdom’s “special relationship” with the United States.
US president Joe Biden has made it clear several times in the past few months that the Belfast Agreement should not be undermined by domestic politics.
Mr Chollet said: “We want to see the UK and the EU have a strong relationship. We’re at a moment now when we think transatlantic unity is very, very important. It is imperative that we work together.”
The United Kingdom’s decision to return to talks with the EU after an eight-month standoff has partly been driven by the United States and partly by British prime minister Liz Truss’s realisation that she does not have the bandwidth to keep the row growing in face of the war in Ukraine and a series of domestic crises relating to the economy and cost of living.
In a meeting between the British prime minister and the US president in New York last month, the importance of the Northern Ireland peace deal and transatlantic unity in the face of an escalating security crisis caused by Russia were restated by the US administration.
Mr Chollet welcomed Ms Truss’s decision to attend the first meeting of the European Political Community in Prague, something she had said she had little interest in just a few months ago.
Ms Truss told broadcasters on Thursday evening it was “very important that we work with our neighbours and allies to face down Putin but also deal with the issues we face”.
Mr Cleverly and Mr Coveney had a working dinner on Thursday during which Brexit was discussed. Further talks between Mr Coveney and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, along with the Northern Ireland minister, Steve Baker, will be held on Friday morning at the British Irish intergovernmental conference.
On Thursday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he accepted the UK’s “good faith” in efforts to find a resolution to the Northern Ireland protocol, signalling a growing optimism an agreement can be reached between the EU and UK on the issue.
Mr Martin was speaking at a summit of EU and non-EU European leaders in Prague on Thursday, where he again held brief discussions with Ms Truss, who also held talks with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
His remarks accepting the British good faith underline an abrupt change in tone from London on the protocol in the past week, after many months during which the EU side openly questioned the British bona fides. — Additional reporting Guardian News and Media