The UK's special envoy for Northern Ireland Protocol told US officials that it has become a threat to the Good Friday agreement.
Conor Burns, the Northern Ireland minister assigned to make the UK case in Washington, shrugs off a threat earlier this month by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to block a US-UK free trade deal if the UK took unilateral action to overrule the protocol.
Customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland were established by the protocol negotiated between the EU and the UK. Pelosi said that if the EU does not agree with the Good Friday accords, UK plans to introduce legislation that would create exemptions to the protocol are deeply concerned. She warned that if the United Kingdom chooses to undermine the Good Friday accords, the Congress cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement. Burns visited Washington last week and said there was a disconnect between the threats and the gravity of the issues at stake with the Northern Ireland protocol.
This is too important for us to sort out the situation in Northern Ireland, doing the right thing for the UK and the people in Northern Ireland to be interwoven with any foreign policy or trade ambitions, Burns said.
Burns has visited government officials and members of Congress with a thick wad of documentation that he says UK businesses have to fill out in order to transport goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The bureaucracy has stopped producers of shortbread and cheese from selling into Northern Ireland because of the time and cost of it.
He said these are products that people have enjoyed in Northern Ireland for decades that have disappeared from the shelves. That is fed into a sense within parts of the unionist community that somehow the protocol sets them apart from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Their identity, their belonging, is undermining and that is a legitimate concern within unionism. The UK government wants the EU to allow customs checks for goods destined to be sold and consumed in Northern Ireland, and would not enter the EU. It has accused Brussels of being inflexible while the EU vice-president, Maro ef ovi, said he had put forward solutions that would improve the way the protocol is implemented. The Democratic Unionist party DUP has refused to enter a new power-sharing administration with Sinn F after the elections on May 5th, without significant changes to the protocol.
Burns argued that that meant that it was the protocol, not the proposed legislation of the UK, that was the threat to the peace agreement.
I would like to ask the question: How is the Good Friday agreement protected if institutions born of the Good Friday agreement don't exist? Burns said something. What I am trying to explain is that it is actually the application of the protocol that is currently undermining the agreements, not the other way around. Burns said that the DUP boycott was the reason why the power-sharing institutions at Stormont were threatened by the DUP boycott rather than the protocol. Burns said it would be a tragedy if the Good Friday institutions collapsed because of failure to agree on different customs regimes for shortbread destined for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
He said that historians will look back and judge us incredibly harshly if we allow that to happen.