Gordon Brown has claimed that Britain is “At war with America over Ireland” amid opposition from US politicians over plans to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking at the Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News about US-UK relations, the former UK prime minister said that there was no chance of the UK signing a trade deal with the world’s biggest economy unless their problems were resolved. He directly linked the issue to the cost of living crisis that is threatening to deepen in the months ahead, arguing that without repairing trade relations with leading export markets, the economic squeeze would drag on for years. In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Brown also claimed Boris Johnson had no plans to tackle the cost of living and called on him to go on television to explain “What needs to be done” ahead of what is expected to be a sharp plunge in living standards over the coming months.
The ex-Labour PM said he did not wish to make personal criticisms of Mr Johnson, but made a scathing reference to a much-mocked CBI speech last November in which he “Talked about Peppa Pig instead of talking about an industrial strategy”. Mr Brown said the UK needed to repair trade relations with Europe and the United States as it seeks economic recovery and that it was “At war, if you like” with both. He said: “We’re at war with America over Ireland because America will not sign a trade treaty with Britain as long as we cannot sort out the issues related to Ireland.”
Mr Brown said that would be the case and there still remains a problem with the US-UK relations, even if US President Joe Biden continues to back a trade deal.
“He may think that but the American congress will not think that,” he said. “There’s no chance of a trade deal between Britain and America unless we can sort out the problems that are arising in Ireland, and, of course, there’s no chance of getting better trade relationships with Europe unless we can sort these problems out as well,” Brown said about US-UK relations.
The White House recently urged Britain and the European Union to return to talks to resolve differences over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but said it does not expect the issue to impede a US-UK trade dialogue next week.
“The US priority remains protecting the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and preserving peace, stability and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
A senior Biden administration official told The Irish Times about the US-UK relations that its overarching view was that any changes to the protocol “Must be the product of a negotiated agreement with Brussels that are adopted into UK law”.
It is understood that among those raising issues over Northern Ireland in recent days was Mr Blinken in talks with UK foreign secretary Liz Truss. Significantly, given London’s continued interest in a trade deal with the US, the issue was raised by US trade representative Katherine Tai in discussions with UK secretary of state for international trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
In May, a nine-strong team led by Congressman Richard Neal is visiting to discuss the post-Brexit trading arrangements. Following the meeting between Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Mr Neal in Dublin, Ms McDonald tweeted: “The USA stands resolute in defence of the Good Friday Agreement and the protocol. It is imperative that the executive is formed. No delay.”
As fears increase in the White House regarding US-UK relations and that the UK could move to “override” the protocol, The Times reported that President Biden is “On the verge of appointing a special US envoy to Northern Ireland”.
In a letter to the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, two senior US congressmen warned the UK Government that its plans on the protocol are in “Direct confrontation” with the “Wishes of the majority of elected officials” in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
There are suggestions that the prime minister understands the danger of unilateral action on the Northern Ireland Protocol and is looking to kick the can further down the road. It has become apparent, since the UK left the EU, that the prime minister long considered the Northern Ireland Protocol as somewhat temporary, something to be fixed later, after “Getting Brexit done”.
Mr Johnson is taking a huge gamble in the NI Protocol that could damage the UK significantly.
- First, the EU has threatened to start a trade war by imposing tariffs on British goods if the plans are ever realised – something that would be hugely damaging with the UK staring down the barrel of a possible recession.
- Secondly, US President Joe Biden – who is descended from Irish Catholics – and his allies have largely sided with the EU in calling for a negotiated solution within the framework of the current protocol, and have made it clear that they would look dimly upon the UK acting unilaterally. Falling out with the Americans risks putting the prospects of a UK-US trade deal – once held up as one of Brexit’s biggest prizes – further into deep freeze.
- Thirdly, the squabbling between Western powers is not exactly helpful when unity is expected to tackle Russia, following Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine.
The United Kingdom is the closest ally of the US. It also has one of the world’s largest economies. And, needless to say, Britain is a democracy that plays by the rules.
All this makes it amasing that the US does not have free trade with Britain. But the reason for it is simple: Until 2020, the UK was in the European Union, which meant it did not control its own trade policy. But with Brexit, Britain is back in charge. Since it left the EU, it has been making trade deals left, right, and centre. It is even close to joining the major Pacific trade pact led by Japan and Australia.
The US fell behind in the race to promote its trade with the UK under then President Donald Trump, when a US-UK deal was a priority. But under President Joe Biden, the US has focused on finger-wagging about Northern Ireland, which is caught up in a tussle between the UK and the EU. This is while The Biden administration has also played down the significance of a US-UK trade deal, one of the priority trade pacts for Johnson’s government, covering 16.8% of UK trade. In conclusion, it seems that the NI Protocol plays an essential role in US-UK relations and Westminster needs to get US support to reap more economic benefits.