Irish PM urges UK to abide by post-Brexit trade deal

Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin on Friday urged the British government to honour its post-Brexit trade commitments in Northern Ireland, as Washington warned London that its brinkmanship with Europe threatened peace.

Martin is visiting Belfast after anger on both sides of the Atlantic over Britain’s commitment to overhaul the so-called Northern Ireland deal, which is part of a Brexit deal with the European Union.

Its demands to inspect goods from England, Scotland and Wales have angered union members in Northern Ireland, who say it has created a divide between the province and the rest of the UK.

They have refused to join Belfast’s new power-sharing government until issues are resolved, forcing its suspension.

“There is no substitute for a series of substantive negotiations between the EU and the UK government in addressing issues related to the protocol,” Martin told reporters in the Northern Ireland capital.

“We believe the problem can be resolved … but the only way is through negotiation.”

A few hours ago, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that the U.K. could forget about free trade agreements if it rewrote the deal.

“It is deeply concerning that the UK now seeks to unilaterally abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol, which preserves the important progress and stability brought about by the (Good Friday 1998) Agreement,” Pelosi tweeted. The agreement ended decades of bloodshed in the province.

“If the UK chooses to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, Parliament cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement with the UK.”

– ‘Firm’ –

A U.S. congressional delegation flew to Brussels on Friday and presented a united front against Britain with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefkovic.

“We are equally committed to protecting the Good Friday (Belfast) agreement,” Sefkovic tweeted. “A joint solution to implement the agreement is the only way to do so.”

“The greatest strength between the US and the @EU_Commission is our unity,” wrote US Congressman Richard Neal.

Britain says the deal needs to be changed to end political paralysis in Northern Ireland and its plans are a backup if talks with Brussels fail.

Martin earlier dismissed allegations of EU inflexibility and urged the biggest trade union party to rejoin Belfast’s executive branch.

For the first time, nationalist Sinn Fein has become the largest party in Northern Ireland’s history.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill will be the first minister in the executive branch. The post has the same powers as Deputy First Minister to ensure a balance of power between unionists and nationalists, but her nomination has huge symbolic significance as the post has never been held by a pro-Irish nationalist party before .

“The EU has repeatedly said we can act on issues,” Martin told BBC radio.

He accused the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of holding a convention for ransom by refusing to nominate ministers after recent elections.

“We cannot have a situation where one party decides that other parties cannot meet in parliament,” Martin added.

But DUP leader Geoffrey Donaldson said the Brexit deal had upset the delicate balance in Northern Ireland that was needed for power-sharing to work.

“Power-sharing only works if unionists and nationalists agree,” he told the BBC.

“There must be new arrangements if we are to move forward… the protocol has already damaged Northern Ireland’s economic and democratic arrangements.

“It has to be replaced by arrangements that can be supported by unionists and nationalists.”

– Green channel? –

The protocol recognises Northern Ireland as a fragile, post-conflict territory that shares new land borders with the UK and the EU.

Given that the border has been a frequent flashpoint for three years of violence, the Good Friday Agreement provides for keeping the border open with neighbouring EU member Ireland.

But it means checks must be carried out elsewhere to prevent goods from entering the EU single market and customs union through the Northern Ireland backdoor.

The UK has proposed a “green lane” for UK traders to send goods to Northern Ireland without any customs declarations to the EU.

America’s interest stems from the fact that it helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement.

But Pelosi’s warning appeared to anger some in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, as well as unionists in Northern Ireland.

“If Nancy Pelosi wants to see the agreement protected, then she needs to recognize that it’s the agreement that damages and undermines it, and that’s why we need to deal with it,” Donaldson said.

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