America has pledged to “protect and defend” the Good Friday Agreement, the US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland said. However, the Government has rebuffed a fresh demand from the EU to withdraw controversial legislation which could see the UK unilaterally tear up elements of the Brexit divorce deal.
This could lead to a clash between the UK and the US over Brexit, would could have ramifications for any post-Brexit trade deal bestrewn the two nations, and further damage the ‘special relationship.’
At talks in Brussels on Monday, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic reiterated calls for ministers to scrap provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill giving them the power to override key provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement.
At a news conference following the meeting of the joint committee on the implementation of the agreement, Mr Sefcovic said the EU “will not be shy” in taking legal action if the UK fails to comply by the deadline of the end of the month on Wednesday.
Minister Michael Gove, who co-chairs the committee with Mr Sefcovic, said the the Government intended to continue with passage of the Bill through Parliament.
He said the provisions relating to the Northern Ireland protocol in the agreement were a legal “safety net” to ensure the Government could continue to protect the peace process if talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal fail.
“We want to reach agreement in the joint committee, we want to make sure that the position of Northern Ireland is secure in the United Kingdom, we want to make sure that Withdrawal Agreement is implemented in full.
“But those clauses are there.
“They are in legislation supported by the House of Commons as a safety net if need be.
“And those clauses will remain that Bill.”
Mick Mulvaney said the agreement could be “at risk” because of the UK Government’s controversial Internal Market Bill, but that it was something the United States was “very interested in seeing not happen”.
He made the comments on a visit to Dublin on Monday where he met with the Irish premier Micheal Martin and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.
His visit comes as the British government rebuffed a fresh demand from the EU to withdraw the Internal Market Bill, which could see the UK unilaterally tear up elements of the Brexit divorce deal.
Mr Mulvaney said the US was watching the EU/UK negotiations closely.
“I think it’s fair to say we are aware and cautious and watching the situation,” he said.
“Concern would imply that we’re worried and I don’t think we’re at that point yet but we certainly understand the interplay between the EU/UK trade deal and the Internal Market Bill and the Good Friday agreement.
“That’s mostly while I’m here. I have not been able to be here previously because of Covid.”
He told RTE News that the Good Friday Agreement could be “at risk”.
He said: “I don’t think it necessarily follows that just because the UK introduced the Internal Markets Bill that automatically means the Good Friday Agreement is at risk.
“But I think anyone who looks at the situation understands there could be a series of events that could put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.
“Again something we’re very interested in seeing not happen in the United States.
“We’re here to protect, defend that Good Friday Agreement that was so hard fought and won.”
Mr Mulvaney met Mr Coveney on Monday morning.
Following the meeting, Mr Coveney said the two men discussed the return of powersharing in Northern Ireland, the work that has resumed on a North-South basis and the challenges arising in the context of Covid-19 and of Brexit.
“I emphasised our real concern at the current approach of the UK Government and the vital importance of the full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, for the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the achievements of the peace process,” Mr Coveney said.
“Those achievements were made possible by the sustained engagement of successive US administrations and special envoys, and friends of Ireland across the United States.
“I appreciate the deep personal commitment that Mick has shown in continuing these vital conversations and contacts which underpin this engagement.”