Brexit: NI official being sent to US amid UK-EU tensionson March 11, 2021 at 3:23 am

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US president Joe Biden has previously expressed concerns about the situation in Ireland after Brexit.

Lorries at a customs checkpoint at Belfast Port

image copyrightPA Media

A senior official from the Northern Ireland Office is to be sent to the US to try to build relations with the administration of President Joe Biden.

It comes amid UK-EU tensions over the UK’s decision to extend an exemption on Brexit checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Irish supermarkets.

The two sides are also at odds in a row over Covid-19 vaccine exports.

The US president has previously expressed concerns about the situation in Ireland after Brexit.

He told reporters in November the US did not want a “guarded border” on the island of Ireland and that it had taken a lot of hard work to reach a settlement and end decades of conflict.

And before his election, Mr Biden – an Irish American – said that any UK-US post-Brexit trade deal had to be “contingent” on respect for the Good Friday Agreement and must not endanger the peace process.

The EU has complained UK’s unilateral decision to extend grace periods on Brexit checks breaches part of the Brexit deal known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, and has threatened the UK with legal action.

Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to the UK, told ITV’s Peston programme on Wednesday it would “move forward” with its legal action in the coming days.

He said the bloc had to take legal action but he hoped that “with some reflection” the two sides could “come to an understanding on the way forward”.

But earlier Brexit minister Lord Frost said London would defend “vigorously” any legal action brought by Brussels and that the measures taken were “operational, technical and temporary”.

And in response to criticism from MPs on Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis also insisted the move had been “lawful”.

“I think that would have raised tensions further and it may well have undermined the protocol fatally in a way that is not actually in the best interests of either the EU, the UK or the people of Northern Ireland.”

The UK and EU have also rowed over the export of Covid-19 vaccines, with Boris Johnson rejecting the bloc’s claim that the government was stopping jabs from leaving the country.

In a briefing note, European Council President Charles Michel had said the UK and the US had imposed an “outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory”.

Mr Michel had said his claim about the UK’s position was based on “facts”, but the Foreign Office decided to summon an EU official to explain what it called the president’s “incorrect assertions”.

The EU has faced production problems with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

In January, it introduced a a system of controls on exports, requiring manufacturers to seek permission from national governments for planned sales.

The bloc also drafted regulations which would have overridden the Northern Ireland Protocol, potentially allowing it to stop vaccines bound for Northern Ireland, but backed down after widespread criticism.

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