Cabinet minister meets with top Democrat amid Northern Ireland tensions

·4 min read

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan met top Democrat Richard Neal amid tensions over the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

The head of the powerful ways and means committee in the US House of Representatives also spoke with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Saturday, and was due to meet the Foreign Secretary.

Accounts of the talks so far have been thin on detail, with no official update issued by Liz Truss.

It 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.

Ms Trevelyan said she was “delighted” to welcome a bipartisan congressional delegation led by Mr Neal 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.

She tweeted: “Delighted to welcome @RepRichardNeal @RepKevinBrady and the US Ways & Means Committee delegation to @tradegovuk to discuss trade, Ukraine, and watch the glorious rehearsals for Trooping the Colour #PlatinumJubilee”.

A spokesman for Sir Keir 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.

In a strongly-worded intervention on Thursday, Ms 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 Ms Truss’s announcement on Tuesday that the UK 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”.

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.

Ms Pelosi’s intervention was met with scorn from former Brexit minister Lord 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 Ms Pelosi’s contribution as “entirely unhelpful”.

Ms Pelosi is not the only senior figure in Washington to express concern about relations between the UK 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.

Mr Neal told The Guardian 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.”

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