EU chief joins up with Irish PM on US visit in bid to gang up on UK over Brexit stalemate
Maros Sefcovic, who is leading the EU's negotiations on Brexit, and Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin will be in Washington for the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations
Commissioner Maros Sefcovic will be in Washington this week during the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations to speak to senior figures in the US Congress about Brexit.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin will also discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol with US President Joe Biden, as they are set to meet as part of the traditional ceremony between Irish and American premiers to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and the ties between the two countries.
Mr Sefcovic plans to hold one-on-one discussions with Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and Brendan Boyle, the head of the EU Caucus on Capitol Hill.
The talks are important in determining future trade between the UK and US as Sefcovic will speak to members of Congress to gain support for Brussels in the Brexit negotiations.
Congressman Boyle spoke to Politico Playbook to praise the EU's position on looking to ensure a deal is met on the Northern Ireland Protocol, as figures in the US keep a close eye on the UK's issues with the agreement.
Strong Irish sympathy runs throughout the US Congress, with Mr Biden himself often citing his roots to the Emerald Isle.
And given the prominent role former US President Bill Clinton played in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the political ramifications of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol have been a cause for concern in Washington.
Many on the other side of the pond have criticised Britain's approach to the negotiations, often siding with Brussels and Dublin in calls to stick to the status quo to keep the peace.
Mr Boyle said: "If there’s one thing this war puts into perspective, it’s the danger of constantly trying to spark divisions with European neighbours and allies. It’s time for all of us in the West to be united, so I hope that we will see a tampering down of the anti-EU rhetoric from Britain.”
Mr Boyle said he doubted that an agreement on the Protocol could be made before Northern Ireland's election on May 5, adding: “The reality is, I would be very surprised if we see any progress between now and the election.
"A couple of the parties like the DUP do seem to see political advantage in being as stridently opposed to the Protocol and any sort of compromise as possible. After the election, depending on what the results will be, I am optimistic that we can finally see progress."
Mr Martin, who is currently in the US capital for the traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations, will discuss economic ties and the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland with Mr Biden on Thursday.
The Taoiseach spoke to the media at the Irish Embassy after chairing a virtual meeting of the Irish cabinet which focused on the humanitarian response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
Mr Martin said his meeting with Mr Biden this week would be a meeting of “one Irishman with another Irishman”.
He added: “Obviously, Ukraine will be the dominant issue and I think it will be important reaffirming and working through the relationship between the European Union and the United States, and how well that has worked in the context of this crisis.
“The President has been very strong in terms of the need for that multi-lateral system, in terms of the need for the restoration of the strong trans-Atlantic alliance that has always existed between Europe and the US, and he has been very effective in that regard.
“No more so than in respect of the current Ukrainian crisis. To be fair to the American government, our sense is they have called this right all along in terms of sharing their intelligence.
“Also working with EU countries in terms of sanctions.”
The Taoiseach said he would also be raising the issue of undocumented Irish currently living in the US.
He said: “Also, how can we work the existing channels of legal migration between the US and Ireland?
“We have to develop new mechanisms which develop a two-way exchange between our two countries which are legal exchanges of people.”
Mr Martin added: “We also want to discuss the economic relationship between Ireland and the United States, which is a powerful relationship, not just in terms of the American multi-nationals which are present in Ireland, but also the number of Irish companies which are located in America creating thousands of jobs.
“It is a very strong, mutual economic relationship and the culture and artistic relationship is also particularly strong.”
The Taoiseach said he would be meeting with several senior US politicians to discuss the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said: “We will also be thanking the president for his steadfast support of the Good Friday Agreement and the ongoing concern about the Good Friday Agreement, and indeed issues around the Protocol and the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.
“We will discuss those issues with senior politicians over the course of this week. Reaffirming our position in terms of the importance of making sure that the Good Friday Agreement is not undermined but also that the protocol works and works effectively.
“The more and more we talk to people in Northern Ireland in industry and in business, the more it emerges that all want continued access to the European single market, the vast majority see it as very beneficial to inward investment into Northern Ireland.
“There are issues around the level of checks, the amount of checks and so on, we have taken those on board, so has the European Union, I believe it should be possible between the EU and the UK to resolve this.”