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Washington warns London: No trade deal if you mess with Brexit protocol

LONDON — The United States Congress “cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement” with the U.K. if it undermines the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Thursday.

Brussels and London have been at loggerheads again this week after the British government promised legislation allowing ministers to ignore parts of the protocol, a key part of the Brexit agreement aimed at preserving peace in Northern Ireland.

In a statement Thursday, the senior Democrat said it was “deeply concerning that the United Kingdom is now seeking to unilaterally discard the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

And she warned that post-Brexit trade talks with the U.K. — already on ice under the Biden administration — would come to nothing if Britain undercuts the arrangement.

The Northern Ireland protocol effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market after the U.K. left the bloc in a bid to avoid a land border at the politically-sensitive frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But London has argued the arrangement is imposing unnecessary bureaucracy on traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, while unionists in Northern Ireland are refusing to join a power-sharing government unless the protocol is renegotiated.

But Pelosi warned: “As I have stated in my conversations with the prime minister, the foreign secretary and members of the House of Commons, if the United Kingdom chooses to undermine the Good Friday Accords, the Congress cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.”

And she added: “Respectful of the will of the British people and of Brexit, I urge constructive, collaborative and good-faith negotiations to implement an agreement that upholds peace. The children of Northern Ireland, who have never known the bloody conflict and do not want to go back, deserve a future free of the violence where all may reach their fulfillment.”

While once held up as a key prize of Brexit, the U.K. has largely shelved hopes of a speedy bilateral free trade deal with the U.S. under the Biden administration.

Instead it has focused on securing state-by-state agreements, although Biden’s team recently opened a fresh trade “dialogue” with the U.K. aimed at reducing barriers to commerce — something U.S. business leaders have warned is now at risk because of London’s move.

This article was updated to remove an inaccurate reference to when Britain left the EU.

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