Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Top US Democrat vows to thwart US-UK trade deal if Brexit risks Irish peace

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there is 'no chance' of a US-UK trade deal passing Congress if Brexit affects Irish peace agreement

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there is no chance of Congress approving a US-UK trade agreement if Brexit undermines the Good Friday peace agreement. AP
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there is no chance of Congress approving a US-UK trade agreement if Brexit undermines the Good Friday peace agreement. AP

The top Democrat in the US Congress said on Wednesday that legislators would block a trade pact with Britain if its exit from the EU undermined Northern Ireland's peace accord.

President Donald Trump and senior advisers to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have spoken recently of fast-tracking a trade deal when Brexit was complete.

But any such agreement would need approval from Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear she would not play along if the Irish peace deal were at risk.

Northern Ireland is part of the UK and is set to leave the EU, while the neighbouring Republic of Ireland is an EU member state.

Reimposing controls along their border if Britain left without a deal – a scenario known as "hard Brexit" – would put the 1998 peace deal in jeopardy.

"Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland," Ms Pelosi said.

"If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress."

The 1998 Good Friday agreement brought the decades-old Northern Ireland conflict to an end, but handling the territory has emerged as a core issue for Brexit negotiators.

Critics have warned that Brexit might require reimposing a hard border, a move that would upend the agreement that has kept peace in Northern Ireland for two decades.

The withdrawal agreement negotiated last year between London and Brussels contains a "backstop" plan to maintain this situation whatever happens with Brexit.

But British MPs have rejected it three times and Mr Johnson has warned the backstop must go or Britain will leave the EU on October 31 without any deal.

Ms Pelosi strongly indicated that Republicans would join her Democrats in opposing a trade pact if Brexit undermined the peace deal.

"The peace of the Good Friday agreement is treasured by the American people and will be fiercely defended on a bicameral and bipartisan basis in the US Congress," she said.

The Republican co-chair of the Friends of Ireland group in the US Congress, Pete King, said that jeopardising the open border was a "needless provocation" over which his party would have no hesitation in defying Mr Trump.

Those in Congress with strong beliefs in the Good Friday agreement "would certainly be willing to go against the president", Mr King told The Guardian newspaper.

After his first call with Mr Johnson late last month, Mr Trump said talks on a "very substantial" post-Brexit trade deal were already under way.

Last week Mr Johnson sent top aides including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to Washington to speed up the negotiations.

And on Monday US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Washington wanted to move very quickly on the trade pact after Britain exits the EU.

Democrat Brendan Boyle said Mr Bolton's trade talk was "nonsensical" and the comments should not be taken seriously.

Dozens of US legislators claim Irish ancestry, and the Friends of Ireland caucus in Congress has long advocated for peace and justice in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

George Mitchell, a former US Senate majority leader with Irish roots, was president Bill Clinton's envoy to Northern Ireland and led the all-party peace negotiations in the 1990s.

Updated: August 15, 2019 12:08 AM

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