Chairs of four powerful committees of the United States’ House of Representatives waded in to the Northern Ireland protocol row on Tuesday to issue a forceful public rebuke to the British government, 24 hours ahead of Lord Frost’s statement to peers.
Gregory Meeks (foreign affairs), William Keating (Europe, energy, the environment and cyber subcommittee), Earl Blumenauer (ways and means subcommittee on trade) and Brendan Boyle, (European Union caucus) released a joint statement warning Britain about threats to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU withdrawal agreement.
Senior US politicians warn UK about threats to suspend the protocol
They urged Frost and Johnson to “commit to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol in full.”
The brief but powerful statement read:
“The Northern Ireland Protocol was a significant achievement during the volatile Brexit process, and its full implementation is critical for ensuring Brexit doesn’t undermine decades of progress toward peace on the island of Ireland.
“The Good Friday Agreement and broader peace process took patience and time to build, with good faith contributions from the communities in Northern Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and others. However, peace can unravel quickly.
“In threatening to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the United Kingdom threatens to not only destabilize trade relations, but also that hard earned peace. We call on the UK to abandon this dangerous path, and to commit to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in full.”
Democratic Congressman Bluemayer from Oregon is chair of the ways and means subcommittee on trade and responsible for approving US trade deals. He is not the man to make an adversary of.
President Biden in agreement with the EU
It’s hard to imagine this did not have prior approval of the White House. Later, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, after a meeting with Joe Biden, said the president was in agreement with the bloc that it was important for peace and stability on the island of Ireland to keep the withdrawal agreement and to stick to the protocol.
Nevertheless, despite these clear warnings, Lord Frost made a defiant statement yesterday in the Lords, “to update the House on various recent developments in our relationship with the European Union”. It provided no new information and, as several peers pointed out, seemed no more than an opportunity to reissue the threat of using article 16 to suspend parts of the protocol.
Lord Newby, responding to Lord Frost’s statement, said it contained “nothing new and largely consists of yet more sabre-rattling” — something he suggested the minister excels at. Indeed, it is perhaps the only thing he excels at.
Questioned by peers, the minister of state at the Cabinet Office and Britain’s chief negotiator of task force Europe, said talk of a firm EU response to the triggering of article 16 would suggest that the UK can only take “action at the price of massive and disproportionate retaliation”. It was as if Frost had suddenly been introduced to the idea of Realpolitik.
The UK government, he claimed, could not understand the “volcanic reaction that we get to the suggestion of using the safeguards provisions”.
Johnson and Frost becoming increasingly isolated
The problem Lord Frost and the prime minister have is the vanishingly small amount of support the government has for triggering article 16. They have painted themselves into a corner along with the DUP and hardline members of the ERG.
Ranged against them is the huge combined diplomatic and economic leverage of the USA and the EU, Ireland, the devolved administrations in the UK, the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, businesses on both sides of the GB-NI border and opposition parties in parliament.
To make an enemy of the UK’s largest overseas trade bloc is unfortunate, but to do so to the second largest as well, is starting to look like carelessness. For a nation with new-found global ambitions, we are making a remarkably clumsy and inept reappearance on the world stage.