NEW YORK – Tony Blair has “explained” the UK’s stance on Northern Ireland’s controversial post-Brexit protocol to skeptical foreign allies, according to a senior British diplomat.
Amid a bitter ongoing dispute with the EU, it was revealed earlier this month that the former British Prime Minister – who won three elections as Labor leader and was a vocal champion of the UK remaining in the European Union – alongside former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
Continuing the work on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, the British diplomat said: “Tony has certainly explained to Europeans and Americans that the British government really has a point on the trade aspects. of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
The UK has been mired in months-long feuds with Brussels over the protocol, which imposes post-Brexit controls on British goods entering Northern Ireland.
London argues that the set-up is too bureaucratic and cites the deep opposition it has encountered from union politicians in the region. It has devised domestic legislation that would allow ministers to ignore parts of the protocol, sparking anger in Brussels and Dublin.
The EU opposes that the UK has signed the carefully negotiated settlement and while it has proposed a series of changes to how the protocol works in practice, it sees it as the only way to create a hard border on the island of Ireland. avoidance while protecting the bloc’s internal market.
US President Joe Biden — whose administration has made it clear it wants the UK to continue to talk with the EU to find a solution — brought up the protocol on Wednesday during a meeting with British Prime Minister Liz Truss at the General Assembly of the United States. the UN.
Downing Street consistently emphasizes that it agrees with the White House on the need to protect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark 1998 peace agreement. But British officials argue that the US does not always recognize this as a separate entity from the Northern Ireland protocol.
Both Biden and Truss emphasized their shared desire to protect the agreement as they posed for cameras before their meeting, with the US president telling Truss, “We are both committed to protecting Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement. And I look forward to hearing what you think.”
The same British diplomat argued that Blair, as a key player in the Northern Ireland peace process, was well placed to explain “why there’s no danger, why it’s not about the Good Friday Agreement.”
And they added: “He explains why the EU’s proposals will not work. He does not agree with the government on every point, but he has certainly been a useful voice in that and I am sure he will continue to do so.”
Blair’s office declined to comment.
As the British side continues to repeat the mantra that it wants a negotiated solution to the spat as soon as possible, there are signs it is bracing itself for the long haul after vowing last week to waive the controls required are under protocol, which it has repeatedly postponed.
With the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement looming in 2023, the diplomat said of Biden: “If you look at the calendar, you will conclude that there may be an obvious reason to enter Europe next year. visit if things go well.” A second government official said they expected the 25th anniversary — which is still more than six months away — to act as a “key decision point” on protocol.
A Downing Street spokesman said after the Biden and Truss meeting that the pair agreed that “the priority must be to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and preserve peace in Northern Ireland”. while a US statement said the two leaders had “reaffirmed their shared commitment to protecting the benefits of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”
Downing Street said Ukraine had dominated the discussions while protocol was only a short segment.
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