LONDON — Britain and the United States have found a common position on the need to defend Ukraine against Russia, reinforcing each other with arms supplies and waves of sanctions. The close partnership has given new meaning to a “special relationship” that many believe had drifted since Brexit.
Now, however, Northern Ireland threatens to complicate matters even more.
The Biden administration is warning Britain not to create a clash with the European Union over trade in Northern Ireland, saying it could weaken Western solidarity by helping Ukraine reverse the Russian attack.
A senior Foreign Office diplomat, Derek Chollet, made the announcement during meetings in Downing Street on Friday, days after the British government announced it would unilaterally include some provisions in an agreement with Brussels that regulates trade with Northern Ireland. could delete.
“The last thing we want now is a big fight between the UK and the EU,” Foreign Office adviser Mr Chollet said in an interview. “This is a time when we should send a general message of unity.”
Chollet urged London and Brussels to try to resolve their disputes over Northern Ireland “behind closed doors”. The United States, he said, believed there was room for a compromise on trade arrangements. “Let’s try to lower the temperature,” he said. “Let’s try to negotiate it.”
His warning came when the European Union threatened to respond with “all measures at its disposal” if Britain passed legislation rejecting the agreement governing post-Brexit trade known as the Northern Ireland Protocol. That raised the specter of a trade war erupting across the English Channel as the West unites to help Ukraine wage a land war further east.
Both the White House and Ireland’s defenders on Capitol Hill have long urged Britain not to take trade steps that could undermine the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 treaty that ended dozens of years of sectarian violence in the north.
Mr Chollet, who is close to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, repeated that message on Friday. But he placed his warning in the context of the West’s alliance against Russian aggression, a message that could resonate with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has championed a position among European leaders as a staunch defender of Ukraine and as a friend of the president of the country, Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We have worked closely with the EU and will continue to do so to ensure a united response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine,” said a Downing Street spokesman. “We want to use that spirit of cooperation to solve the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol.”
The government said its top priority was to protect the Good Friday Agreement and that the new legislation on Northern Ireland was aimed at “safeguarding the hard-won achievements of the peace process”.
Still, Britain’s threat to tear up parts of its trade deal also drew criticism from congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. In a statement on Thursday, she said it was “deeply disturbing that the UK is now trying to unilaterally abolish the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
Ms. Pelosi reiterated a long-standing threat that Congress would not approve a bilateral trade deal between the United States and Britain if the Johnson administration did anything to jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement. Mr Johnson once presented such a deal as a fine dividend for leaving the European Union.
But it’s no longer clear how much influence that gives to congressional leaders. The White House has indicated that closing a deal with Britain is not high on the list of priorities anyway. In March, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai described free trade agreements as a “twentieth-century tool”.
As British trade negotiator Anne-Marie Trevelyan looked on, Ms Tai said she wanted to avoid “spending a lot of blood, sweat and tears on something irrelevant to the needs of our people and our economies.”
Lawmakers insist the United States could still use the prospect of a trade deal as leverage for Northern Ireland with Britain as the government examines a similar deal with the European Union. They also note that President Biden, a proud Irish American who often cites his roots, has personally warned Mr Johnson about the sanctity of the Good Friday Agreement.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Russia’s punishment of Finland. Russia will stop supplying natural gas to Finland on May 21, the Finnish state energy supplier said. Russia said it was suspending delivery because Finland had failed to comply with its demand to make payments in rubles. Finland has also applied to join NATO, much to Russia’s anger.
A delegation of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, led by Representative Richard E. Neal, Massachusetts Democrat and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, traveled to London from Brussels on Friday as part of a multi-day tour to pressure both parties. for a breach over Northern Ireland. He expressed suspicion about Britain’s motives.
“We’ve heard these repeated arguments that the UK wants to negotiate,” Mr Neal, one of Ireland’s most outspoken defenders in Congress, said in an interview. “What we heard from the EU today is, ‘Let’s move on.'”
“How the UK wants to handle its domestic politics is up to them,” he added. “But an international agreement is an international agreement.”
British officials are downplaying the prospect of a split with the United States over Northern Ireland. They say the topic comes up much less in conversations with the White House than on Capitol Hill. But they also admit they are frustrated at what some say is Washington’s inability to understand the complexity in the north, and why Britain has no choice but to review trade rules.
Mr Johnson recently sent his minister for Northern Ireland, Conor Burns, to Washington to meet with lawmakers and other government officials. Mr Burns told reporters he believed Britain’s message was getting through.
Privately, some British officials are pointing out that Republicans could take control of the House after this fall’s midterm elections, which would push defiant figures like Mr Neal out of their powerful committee chairmanship.
When asked about this, Mr Neal said, “First, we intend to win this election. And two: Joe Biden is president until 2024.”