US President Joe Biden does not fully appreciate details of Northern Ireland Protocol row, minister says

Joe Biden does not “fully appreciate” the details of the row surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol, a minister has suggested.

Speaking to Kay Burley on Sky News, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the row over post-Brexit arrangements between the UK and EU was “very complicated” and “I’m not sure he does fully appreciate all of that”.

“He is probably at the moment just reading the headlines, reading what the EU is saying, reading what Ireland might be saying, which is that they would like the Northern Ireland Protocol to work in the way the EU envisage,” he continued.

“We think he is wrong because the truth is that unless we have a sustainable solution that enables trade to continue between GB and Northern Ireland then we are going to have issues, and that itself would become a challenge to the Belfast Agreement.”

Mr Eustice said it was “legitimate for him to have a view on it and express that view” and added: “We will obviously explain to the United States effectively it is tantamount to saying that potatoes grown in one part of the United States can’t be sold in another part of the United States.

“When you explain some of those provisions in detail, it is understood by the US government that that clearly does not make any sense and therefore should be revisited.”

The protocol is a key part of the Brexit deal struck between London and Brussels and is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

As part of the arrangement, Northern Ireland remains under some EU rules and there are checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Brexit minister Lord Frost said in July that “significant changes” need to be made to the protocol and unveiled proposals from the UK government designed to bring what he said would be a “new balance” to the protocol.

Since Mr Eustice’s interview, government sources have told Sky News that Number 10’s position is that the EU is wrong about the protocol, not the US.

A source said: “What he meant to say is that we agree with the US that nothing must undermine the Belfast Agreement.

“We want to come up with the most sustainable solution, not necessarily the one that the EU is proposing.”

The environment secretary was speaking hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Mr Biden at the White House.

Speaking alongside the PM in the Oval Office, the president issued a warning that the protocol dispute must not end in a “closed border” on the island of Ireland.

“On the [Northern Ireland] protocols I feel very strongly on those. We spent an enormous amount of time and effort, the United States, it was a major bipartisan effort made,” he said.

“And I would not at all like to see, nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland.”

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has said in the past that there would be “absolutely no chance” of a UK-US trade deal passing Congress if the UK does anything to “imperil” the Good Friday Agreement.

Asked about the prospects of a trade pact, Mr Eustice acknowledged that an agreement was “just not a priority” for Washington.

“We still very much hope to be able to put together an agreement with the United States,” he said.

“We are not putting timescales on it.”

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