The US government is to use tariffs on British steel as part of an international push to force the British government to honour its treaty obligations towards Ireland, it has been reported.
Despite the US agreeing in October to end tariffs on the EU, they are to be maintained against Britain because of its continuing refusal to implement the Irish protocol of Brexit, which prevents a remilitarisation of the border through Ireland.
President Joe Biden’s administration is among those which have warned the Tories that their attempt to renege on the Brexit deal agreed a year ago by Boris Johnson and the EU is a threat to peace in the north.
The move against Britain’s £2bn steel industry is the latest sign of the scale of the possible response if Britain follows through with threats to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol, the so-called ‘nuclear’ option, to escalate the dispute and likely ignite a trade war.
Unionist politicians and English Brexit extremists have criticised the protocol because it requires spot checks on goods arriving from Britain at seaports in the north of Ireland. Ironically, unionist business figures are increasingly supportive of the deal because they believe it bolsters the union with Britain by ‘making Northern Ireland work’ due to the trade and investment opportunities it creates.
Figures published this week show that the north of Ireland now has the fastest growing economy of any area under London rule as a result of the free trade element of the protocol. Despite this, hardline unionists still cling to hopes of wrecking it and instead gaining a reinforced ‘hard’ border around the British-occupied Six Counties.
Speaking in Washington DC, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the Johnson government will face consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the protocol.
In a presentation at the National Press Club on Thursday, she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.
She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood “four square” behind the Good Friday Agreement and the protocol.
“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”
Asked about the report on tariffs on British steel and aluminium products, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.
However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”
Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty for its war crimes during the conflict in Ireland.
She said the British government was ‘going to the ultimate point’ to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.
She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.
Ms McDonald also declared that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referendums would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Dublin government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.
“There will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification,” she said.