Brandon Lewis Goes to Washington

08 February 2022 - by Cris Cloyd

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis MP is at Capitol Hill to compel the US Government to apply influence and pressure to the EU and scrap the NI Protocol after DUP MLA Paul Givan resigned as First Minister and taking deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with him just over two years after a three-year political vacuum.

US President Joe Biden has not been shy in stating Oval Office support for the NI Protocol and that his administration is not taking sides. As a proud Irish American, Biden speaks highly of his Irish heritage and has been unequivocal in his belief that the NI Protocol is necessary to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

So what is Brandon Lewis bringing with him this time to try and shift that firm stance? Perhaps he believes that the resignation is tangible evidence of collateral from the NI Protocol. That during a cost-of-living crisis, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and government budgets now uncertain, perhaps he is hoping that President Biden can exert influence on the EU and persuade them of the need to reform the NI Protocol.

This could be wishful thinking though as Biden faces a number of significant challenges at home, including sinking approval rating months before crucial midterm elections, trying to secure a Supreme Court nominee, his Build Back Better agenda being near death on the Hill, and trying to deescalate a war in Ukraine. Despite his vocal support and interest in Northern Ireland, it’s possible the President of the United States might not consider the special relationship special enough to get involved at this stage.

As the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill completed its final passage in Parliament last night, this New Decade New Approach agreement saw a last-minute retrospective amendment to allow Ministers and the Assembly to carry on longer than the current seven-day window in cases of resignations and elections.

This gives some breathing space to the situation locally. But in any event, this problem won’t be resolved in the US, or in Northern Ireland for that matter. It will be the outworking of the EU and UK talks on the Protocol that ultimately determine what happens next, and if the US chooses to become an international mediator and invoke that special relationship, perhaps something can be salvaged that will appease the DUP, and the other parties back home.