Leading article

Significant US intervention over Irish protocol

The historically close political and diplomatic links between the US and the UK have come to be known as the special relationship, a phrase said to have been first coined by Winston Churchill in 1946.

There can be no doubt that the understanding between the two countries is an enduring one, which has stood the test of time and served Washington and London well in good times and bad.

It is extremely rare for public criticisms to be directed across the Atlantic from either side, making the intervention by a leading US official over the Irish protocol upheaval a matter of considerable significance.

Derek Chollett, the most senior adviser to the US secretary of state Anthony Blinken, on Friday went so far as to suggest that the growing dispute between the EU and the UK over post Brexit trade arrangements risked undermining Western unity during the Ukraine war, declaring that Vladimir Putin would "use any opportunity he can to show that our alliance is fraying".

He said he wanted to see the issue resolved with the temperature lowered and no unilateral acts taking place, an obvious reference to the UK's astonishing attempt to renege on the EU Withdrawal Agreement negotiated and signed by Boris Johnson only two years ago.

Mr Chollett's comments should not come as a surprise at Westminster after the recent completely unmistakable expressions of alarm from US president Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Ms Pelosi, who has a record of paying close attention to Irish affairs, specifically said on Thursday that she was ``deeply concerned'' over London's approach, and declared there was no possibility that the US Congress would support a long proposed trade deal with the UK if the latter's actions jeopardised the Irish peace process.

The UK's former Brexit minister, David Frost, immediately attacked Ms Pelosi, and said there had never been a plan to put a new physical border on the island of Ireland, ignoring the widespread belief that achieving such an outcome was precisely why many DUP figures campaigned so strongly for EU withdrawal.

Mr Johnson and his fellow English nationalists may be happy to pick a sham fight with Brussels but a firm rebuke from Washington represents a very different set of circumstances.

Jeffrey Donaldson faces a clear choice between risking yet another betrayal from Mr Johnson or making a reasonable accommodation with the pro-protocol majority at Stormont. It should not be a difficult decision.

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