Joe Biden could shadow Boris Johnson on Brexit line in Northern Ireland – POLITICO

LONDON — If Boris Johnson threatens to go nuclear as part of the Brexit deal covering Northern Ireland, he can expect Joe Biden-friendly zoning.

Britain this week threatened to take unilateral action to roll back the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol as part of efforts to renegotiate the terms of the deal signed in 2019.

It has already earned a scathing rebuke from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a prominent Democrat, who said Congress ‘cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement’ with the Kingdom. United if he undermines the deal.

She’s not alone: ​​Joe Biden’s administration has a keen interest in protecting peace on the island of Ireland, after a decades-long conflict that ended in a shaky peace deal.

Trade relations between Washington and London have seen a gradual warming in recent months – but that is expected to plunge back into deep freeze. And the UK is warned to expect passive-aggressive treatment.

“The answer will be very subtle and difficult to decipher,” explained Alexander Bobroske, an expert on UK-US-EU relations. at the consulting firm Global Counsel. “I don’t think that would be something said explicitly,” he noted — but be prepared for some “dragging” business ties through the summer as Biden’s team waits to see how the take spout unfolds.

The answer will also depend on whether Britain actually uses the weapon it is giving itself. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss pledged this week to introduce legislation allowing her to make unilateral changes to the protocol, with officials saying the move could come in the first half of June if the EU refuses to meet UK requests.

London wants a reduction in customs formalities imposed on goods sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland under the protocol. Brussels has set out its own options for reform, but warns that further concessions would undermine the EU’s cherished single market. The UK government is also facing intense pressure from the Democratic Unionist Party, which sees the protocol driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and refusing to join the power-sharing government. without major changes.

But Washington has long warned that moves to roll back or tear up the protocol could jeopardize Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal – the Belfast/Good Friday deal – and urged London to step back from the sinkhole.

The warnings will grow even louder in the coming days, with a congressional delegation led by Democrat Richard Neil, who shares the administration’s view, set to land in Britain.

Irish Biden

Britain has faced an uphill battle to get its message across to a political establishment in Washington that is often pro-Irish, thanks to centuries of Irish emigration to America.

Although the role of Irish republicanism in America has changed since it helped the IRA’s armed campaign by raising funds in Irish strongholds like Boston and New York, it remains a powerful force.

Sinn Féin ran full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Post last year calling for a united Ireland, and the party still has a formidable fundraising operation in the United States.

The question also covers the American political divide. Mick Mulvaney, special envoy to Northern Ireland during the Donald Trump administration, told the BBC this week that “if people start unilaterally changing an agreement, it’s hard to move forward on future agreements”.

While Pelosi’s warning on Thursday is likely to resonate in London, the prospect of a US-UK free trade deal seems slim since Biden entered the White House. Even optimistic chief UK negotiator Crawford Falconer admitted at an event this week that the process had “stuck”.

Yet the UK’s move comes at a time of real movement in some aspects of UK-US trade relations. A series of “dialogues” have just been launched to discuss ways to improve bilateral trade, and there has been a resolution to a long-running dispute over US steel tariffs.

Britain still covets the post-Brexit price tag of a trade deal with the US, with UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan telling Bloomberg this week there could be movement towards a trade deal in 2022.

This thaw is expected to end if the UK follows through on its protocol threats.

Cold reception

“Just so everyone knows the landscape and the reality of Congress,” said William Keating, Congressman and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, “there would be no free-trade agreement. exchange and that would be a step backwards in terms of trade relations – something that I don’t think anyone wants.

Others argue that the Biden administration could do more than just cut off current trade dialogues and kick prospects for an FTA further into the long grass.

“Just cutting off these nascent business dialogues doesn’t seem to really get things done,” said Garrett Workman, senior director for EU affairs at the US-UK Business Council. “So there might be pressure to do more than that.”

While Britain’s warning this week has raised concerns in Brussels, it may have cooled its jets amid fears of a US backlash. For a long time, London had informed that it would do everything possible and introduce the bill granting it the power to override parts of the protocol this week. In the end, Truss left the prospect open – but it remains a war of words rather than actions.

“The administration and those on the Hill who care deeply about it want this resolved without any drama around it,” Northern Ireland Minister Conor Burns told The Times during a recent diplomatic offensive in Washington. “That is also our wish.”

Indeed, the Biden administration was relieved that Truss did not follow up on the threat this week, as it feared Britain would take more immediate action and refuse to negotiate further, according to a person understanding the sentiment. of the White House.

Biden is said to fear even more the use of Article 16, a clause in the protocol allowing either side to override its provisions in a crisis. The UK seems to be cold to the idea of ​​using this particular weapon.

To take part

Brussels is confident it has Biden on its side in the row. An EU official says the threat of retaliation from Washington is acting as a “game changer” and Biden is taking an even keener interest in the row to avoid splits in Western unity amid the war in Ukraine.

“They don’t want bad messages going to President Putin,” the person said. “But the American influence is on the UK rather than on us.”

Indeed, the US is expected to take the example of the EU in its response to unilateral action.

London, of course, takes the opposite view of its interlocutors across the Channel. “The United States is less of a factor than before,” a government official said. “He was less aggressive about it and the bilateral work on Ukraine helped. We certainly seem to be less fearful than before when it comes to Washington.

Yet British behavior towards the United States paints a different picture. After Burns’ charm offensive in Washington, Truss spoke to Pelosi on the phone in an attempt to reassure her. That effort appears to have borne little fruit on Thursday.

Others are less interested in allaying concerns across the Atlantic. David Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator, warned last week that Biden should walk away from the issue. “We don’t need to lecture others about the peace process,” he said at an event in Washington.

Suzanne Lynch, Doug Palmer and Gavin Bade contributed reporting.

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Edward L. Robinett