Liz Truss is resisting pressure from a close ally of Joe Biden not to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol, saying she will not let the impasse drag on the foreign secretary, who is facing concerted pressure from senior US politicians on the issue. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has warned that she could endanger any hopes of a free trade deal with America.
The protocol, which was part of the divorce treaty with the European Union in the year 2019, was intended to avoid placing a customs border across the island of Ireland, instead placing it in the Irish Sea. The unionists claim that this undermines Northern Ireland's position in the UK and Downing Street is threatening to change or even dump the protocol.
Truss was confronted yesterday by a delegation led by Congressman Richard Neal, a senior Biden ally. There are concerns in Washington about the tensions between London and Brussels and the impact of the Good Friday agreement if the British government goes ahead with its threats.
It is understood that Truss has said she was defending the Good Friday agreement rather than endangering it. She is understood to have said that the protocol was having a severe impact and she could not let the situation drag on if the EU did not produce a reasonable solution.
Business groups in Northern Ireland dispute that there is a problem and have suggested that they are now cushioning the region from the impact of Brexit, despite the fact that the arrangements did cause disruption early on.
Neal brought a delegation from the powerful congressional ways and means committee to Truss's retreat in Chevening in Kent. He had earlier held talks with EU officials in Brussels and had met Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.
The meeting came just days after Truss declared that she had a plan for reworking parts of the protocol if a negotiated solution with the EU didn't work. The impasse has intensified after the DUP refused to take part in Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration unless major changes are made to the way the deal is operating.
Pelosi's intervention warning Boris Johnson that the protocol was necessary to maintain the peace agreement in Northern Ireland was followed by a warning from Derek Chollet, a senior adviser to the US secretary of state Antony Blinken. He said that Britain should not get involved in a big fight with the EU and urged both sides to refrain from unilateral actions. Tory MPs say they have become confused about the government's position on the Northern Ireland protocol, with suspicions that a divide is opening up between Truss and Downing Street who are thought to be more wary of causing a major row with the EU, Dublin and Washington. A special envoy for Northern Ireland in the US has been appointed by Conor Burns, a Northern Ireland minister. He travelled to Washington earlier this month to have candid conversations with his American counterparts.
There are hopes in Dublin and Washington that Truss' threats are a negotiating tactic. Her plan includes the creation of a green channel that would allow some goods to pass without checks from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, on condition that they do not end up in the Republic of Ireland. It would give the UK more powers to change VAT in Northern Ireland. The EU believes that the arrangement is risky and inherently risky.
The EU has refused to allow any talks over reopening the protocol, instead offering a package to free up trade with the province.