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US urges UK to keep talking to EU in ‘good faith’ amid Brexit row

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged his British counterpart to continue “good faith” talks with the European Union as the latest post-Brexit row over Northern Ireland flared up.

In a call with U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Blinken urged the U.K. foreign affairs chief “to continue good faith negotiations with the EU to reach a solution that preserves the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” according to a State Department readout.

The message from Washington comes after Truss’ department unveiled a bill Monday in the House of Commons which, if passed, would allow British ministers to switch off parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, a crucial part of the Brexit divorce deal which London contends is causing political and trade disruption in Northern Ireland.

The EU has already made clear it will consider resuming legal action against the U.K., while Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. — with whom the U.K. holds out hope of landing a trade deal — were quick to urge caution.

Richard Neal, who chairs the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and led a recent U.S. delegation to the U.K. and Ireland, said he would continue to “urge the U.K. and the EU to find joint, negotiated solutions to post-Brexit trading arrangements.”

He added: “We must cooperate and stay united in rebuilding our global economy in the wake of the pandemic and in supporting the Ukrainian people through Russia’s unprovoked war. The U.S. remains a guarantor of the historic Good Friday Agreement and peace on the island of Ireland, which all parties must protect, and build on for future generations.”

His committee colleague Brendan Boyle, a fellow Democrat went further, warning the U.K. bill “clearly violates international law” and stressing the pro-protocol majority in Northern Ireland’s Assembly. “The people of Northern Ireland have spoken loud and clear. The British government needs to listen to them.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, who has Irish ancestry, has previously emphasized his own concern that post-Brexit disputes between London and Brussels could imperil the peace process.

A State Department spokesperson said Monday that Washington’s priority “remains protecting the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and preserving peace, stability, and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland.”

The U.S. had, they pointed out, “welcomed the provisions” in the Brexit divorce and trade deals “as a way to manage the practical challenges of preserving distinct EU and U.K. markets, while preventing the return of customs infrastructure on the land border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“We support a strong and close EU-U.K. partnership.  However, we recognize there have been challenges over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol,” the spokesperson added. “We urge the U.K. and EU to return to talks to resolve these differences. Transatlantic peace, security, and prosperity are best served by a strong U.K., a strong EU, and the closest possible relationship between the two.”

Suzanne Lynch contributed reporting.

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