MLA hits out at Democratic team who are ‘regularly seen in the company of Sinn Fein’
A new DUP MLA has told a US Congressional delegation that “they would have been better staying at home” if they were only interested in one view of Northern Ireland.
The group, led by senior Democrat Richard Neal, is visiting the Republic and Northern Ireland this week amid ongoing tensions caused by the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
As the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Mr Neal has warned that a UK-US trade deal is at risk if the Government attempts to ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he believes is essential to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
However, North Belfast MLA Phillip Brett said the delegation had “spent too much time with the Friends of Sinn Fein chasing Irish-American votes rather than taking time to listen to wider viewpoints in Northern Ireland”.
“Congressman Richie Neal and many of his fellow travellers are regularly seen in the company of Sinn Fein and have spoken of their desire to see Northern Ireland removed from the United Kingdom. It is therefore no surprise that their visit to Northern Ireland seems tone deaf to the concerns of unionists,” he said.
“Progress is made in Northern Ireland when unionists and nationalists are on board. The protocol was always doomed to failure as it ignored the views of unionists, binned the idea of consensus politics, and built a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“If the US delegation is only interested in a one-sided approach to Northern Ireland, then they would have been better staying at home.”
Earlier, the delegation warned London that unilaterally removing the protocol “will not work”.
Democratic congressman Dan Kildee urged Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to hold face-to-face negotiations with Brussels to resolve outstanding issues.
“It’s important, and we stress this, that the (UK) negotiate and that they not take unilateral action,” Mr Kildee said.
“I think that was the very first point that was pressed by our delegation, most particularly Richie Neal. The only way we can come to agreement, the only way we protect the incredible progress that’s represented with the Good Friday Agreement, is face-to-face negotiation. It is disappointing to see unilateral action being considered.”
The group met Taoiseach Micheal Martin later in Dublin.
Afterwards, Mr Martin said there is “a deep well of support from our partners across the world” for the EU and UK to come to a “joint, pragmatic solution” over the protocol.
“Unilateral action will not bring us closer to that goal,” the Taoiseach said.
Speaking alongside Mark Rutte in Dublin, Mr Martin said he had told the Dutch Prime Minister that industry representatives from Northern Ireland had said the protocol was working for “many sectors”, mentioning manufacturing, meat and dairy industries.
He said: “From my contact in recent days in Belfast on Friday, with European leaders, with the delegation from the US Congress I met, I know that the only way we will find a way through the current difficulties on the protocol is through good faith engagement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”
Mr Rutte said he still gets “emotional” about the signing of the Agreement, and that the protocol not only preserves it but also prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland while safeguarding the integrity of the EU single market.
He said the EU nations “fully support” the work of European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, who has been negotiating with the UK on how to tweak the protocol.
“We will keep on working with him and his team to make sure that we somehow find a way out of this,” Mr Rutte said.
“But if this is not possible, we also have to take our next steps and think about those. I don’t want to guess as to what they could be, because I don’t think that is helpful, but I think Boris Johnson and the UK know very well what the next steps could be. Let’s hope we don’t come to that.”