Daniel Mulhall, Ireland's newly retired ambassador to the US, this week said he believes there is an opportunity for the new British prime minister to find a solution to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mulhall told Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio on Monday that whether Liz Truss or rival Rishi Sunak is nominated to succeed Boris Johnson next week, there will be an opportunity for a fresh start in talks between the UK and the European Union.

Mulhall at first refrained from saying who would win, but then appeared to side with public opinion that Truss is the hot favorite when he said, “I hope she doesn’t get trapped too much by what she said in the past.”

Truss, as foreign secretary, pushed the Johnson bill that would give British ministers power to scrap most of the Protocol which was agreed in 2019 to govern trade across the Irish Sea post-Brexit.

British newspapers have reported that Truss is prepared to activate Article 16 of the Protocol which allows one of the parties to unilaterally suspend parts of the pact.

But Mulhall told RTÉ, “Every prime minister, once elected, has an opportunity to cut their own cloth, and there is an opportunity for a fresh start between the UK and the European Union.”

He added, “I hope that the new prime minister takes advantage of that fresh start opportunity and moves forward to try to find a pragmatic solution to the issue surrounding the protocol. I believe a solution is within reach and can be arrived at.

“I do think whatever happens on the day he or she becomes prime minister a new era will begin and I hope the judgment that will be made will be pragmatic rather than judgments driven by ideological considerations to do with Brexit.”

Mulhall, who was Ireland’s ambassador in the UK before taking up his five-year stint in the US which ended on August 12, also talked about his work with both the Trump and Biden administrations.

He said the Trump administration had an adversarial attitude towards the European Union, but not towards Ireland.

“They were positive about Northern Ireland. They were quite negative about the European Union and we were therefore dragged into those situations,” he said.

“They were supportive of Brexit but they also recognized and were supportive of the retention of an open border on the island of Ireland, so from that point of view I don’t have anything unreasonable to say about their approach to Ireland. 

“They were in favor of Brexit but didn’t want to see Brexit damage the cause of peace in Northern Ireland.”

Describing his links with President Biden and his administration, Mulhall said, “Naturally you have to have your heart warmed by a president who describes himself as having an Irish background, is proud of his Irish heritage, quotes Irish poetry on a regular basis, and has for 40 years been a supporter of peace in Northern Ireland.”

He said Irish Embassy officials in Washington didn’t try to “do down” Britain in the US. They simply put forward the Irish point of view and ensured Americans, Republican and Democrat, understand the particular point of view and the important role they could play in helping peace in Northern Ireland.

*This column first appeared in the August 31 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.