State department counsellor Derek Chollet calls for transatlantic unity and better UK-EU relations
The last thing the west needs now is another flare-up over Northern Ireland, Derek Chollet, the US Department of State counsellor, has warned.
Delivering a strong call for improved relations between the UK and Europe at a time of world instability, Chollet urged all sides to avoid unilateral gestures, including over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“The last thing we need is flare-ups right at a moment where transatlantic unity, European unity, is more important than ever. That is our north star,” he said.
He added that the protocol issue needed to be fixed: “We understand that there’s some practical realities and that adjustments could be made. But we don’t think that unilateral steps are helpful. We want to see the temperature go down on this, and I think, to everyone’s credit, it has in recent weeks.”
Chollet’s intervention came during a visit to London ahead of a trip to Northern Ireland on Monday.
He would not be drawn on whether it would be sensible to postpone the deadline for holding fresh assembly elections or whether the bill scrapping the Northern Ireland protocol bill should be withdrawn. But his emphasis that the bill will take time to go through parliament suggested a lack of enthusiasm for the measure.
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It is unusual for a state department official to be so blunt about its wish for better EU-UK relations post-Brexit, but it may be that Washington senses there is finally a mood in London and Brussels to compromise that they can encourage. He welcomed the decision of Liz Truss to attend the first meeting of the new European Political Community.
He said: “We want to see the UK and the EU have a strong relationship. We’re at a moment now when we think transatlantic unity is very, very important. It is imperative that we work together.”
He said the US retained a keen interest in Northern Ireland and preserving the Good Friday agreement. The 25th anniversary of the agreement is expected to be marked by a visit to Belfast by Joe Biden.
Chollet said the US administration had been watching European public opinion as the Ukraine war continues and prices escalate, adding: “Thus far, I have been impressed by the resilience of European publics to make sacrifices to punish Russia, even if it exposes them to some risk and higher prices and costs.
“Now, of course, we’re all watching the winter closely. We have done work with Europeans to try to ensure that there’s sufficient energy supplies for the winter. I think we’ll be OK on that.”
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