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A lorry passes an anti-‘Northern Ireland Protocol’ sign as it leaves a port near Belfast this month. Photo: AFP

UK vows ‘cast-iron commitment’ to Northern Ireland after Nancy Pelosi sounds trade alarm

  • Britain’s top diplomat Liz Truss made the remarks about the Good Friday Agreement during a meeting with US politicians
  • Earlier, the US house speaker warned that London’s ‘deeply concerning’ post-Brexit plans for the region imperilled a US-UK free trade agreement
Britain’s foreign secretary said she discussed London’s “cast-iron commitment” to the Good Friday Agreement during a meeting with US politicians.

Liz Truss said it was “great” welcoming a bipartisan US congressional delegation led by top Democrat Richard Neal, with topics of conversation ranging from the peace treaty to “the importance of free trade” and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It comes amid heightened tensions over the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Photo: dpa

Neal, the head of the powerful ways and means committee in the US house of representatives, also spoke with International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Labour leader Keir Starmer on Saturday.

Accounts of the talks with the Cabinet ministers have been thin on detail, with only tweets as a guide to their discussions. The visit from the delegation follows a warning from US house speaker Nancy Pelosi that Congress will not support a free-trade agreement with the UK if the government persists with “deeply concerning” plans to “unilaterally discard” the Northern Ireland Protocol.

UK unveils radical rewrite of Brexit pact for Northern Ireland

Truss said on Twitter it was “great welcoming” the US members of Congress, adding that as well as the Good Friday Agreement they had also discussed “the importance of free trade and our condemnation of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”.

Trevelyan said she was “delighted” to welcome the delegation to her department to discuss UK-US trade matters, as well as the situation in Ukraine, but made no explicit mention of post-Brexit tensions.

A spokesman for Starmer said his meeting featured talks on the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement by ensuring a working Northern Ireland Protocol. The Labour leader and congressional delegation also touched on the need to be ambitious and creative in trade dialogues between the US and UK, and the importance of Western unity in the face of Russian aggression in Europe, the spokesman said.

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has warned the UK its ‘deeply concerning’ plans for Northern Ireland threaten a free-trade agreement. Photo: AP

In a strongly-worded intervention on Thursday, Pelosi urged the UK and the EU to continue negotiations on the post-Brexit trade arrangements to uphold peace in the region. The congresswoman said in a statement: “The Good Friday Accords are the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland and a beacon of hope for the entire world.

“Ensuring there remains no physical border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland is absolutely necessary for upholding this landmark agreement, which has transformed Northern Ireland.

“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.”

The latest controversy has been sparked by Truss’s announcement on Tuesday that Britain intends to legislate to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal treaty it struck with the EU. The Foreign Secretary told the Commons the move is needed to reduce “unnecessary bureaucracy” and to protect the Good Friday Agreement, arguing that the EU’s proposals “would go backward from the situation we have today”.

There is no plan to put in place a physical border
David Frost, former Brexit minister

The ongoing row over the treaty has created an impasse in efforts to form a devolved government administration in Belfast, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to join an executive unless its concerns over the situation are addressed.

Pelosi’s intervention was met with scorn from former Brexit minister David Frost, who called the statement “ignorant” of the “the realities in Northern Ireland”.

“There is no plan to put in place a physical border,” he told the BBC. “Nobody has ever suggested that, so I don’t know why she is suggesting that in her statement.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson also described Pelosi’s contribution as “entirely unhelpful”.

Sinn Fein hails ‘new era’ for Northern Ireland after historic polls

Pelosi is not the only senior figure in Washington to express concern about relations between Britain and the EU in recent days.

Derek Chollet, a senior adviser to US secretary of state Antony Blinken, said on Friday a “big fight” between the UK and the EU is the “last thing” the US wants. Neal told The Guardian newspaper part of his job is to convince the UK not to breach the Brexit treaty.

“They haven’t breached it yet. They’re talking about breaching it, so part of my job is to convince them not to breach it,” he said.

“My purpose is manifold but we really want to reaffirm America’s unwavering commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to remind everybody that on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it has worked splendidly.

“I want to remind everybody in the UK, in Northern Ireland, that it should not be treated as a cavalier achievement.”