Wednesday

24th Apr 2019

US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit

  • Nancy Pelosi spoke out on Brexit in London and Dublin prior to going to Germany (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Congress would torpedo a UK trade deal if Brexit led to a hard border in Ireland, a senior US politician has warned in a blow to Brexiteers.

British politicians should "not think for one minute that there's any comfort for them that if they leave the EU they will quickly have a US-UK trade agreement," Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said in Dublin on Tuesday (16 April).

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"That's just not in the cards if there is any harm done to the Good Friday accords. Don't even think about it," she said.

"This isn't for us an issue or an agreement. It's a value," she added.

Pelosi, from the opposition Democratic Party in the US, spoke after meeting Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney while on the second leg of a European tour that also includes the UK and Germany.

She said the same at the London School of Economics in the UK on Monday.

"If there were to be any weakening of the Good Friday accords ... there would be no chance whatsoever, a nonstarter, for a US-UK trade agreement," Pelosi said.

The Good Friday peace accord of 1998 ended decades of sectarian warfare in Ireland and Northern Ireland and stipulates that there must be an open border between the two countries.

The EU has also taken a firm line on the issue, demanding that UK must stay in a customs union with Europe after Brexit until another solution is found to let goods and people move freely across the boundary line.

But that demand, the so-called "backstop" plan, has been rejected three times by British MPs, prompting a series of delays to Brexit from 29 March to 31 October.

The idea that leaving the EU will let Britain become a global trading power by striking free trade deals with the US and other nations is a pillar of Brexit advocates.

US president Donald Trump has the authority to strike trade pacts on behalf of his country, but Congress, where Pelosi's Democrats hold a majority, must ratify any accords in order for them to enter into life.

Speaking also on Tuesday, the Irish leader Leo Varadkar told the TheJournal.ie: "We are never going to ask the US to choose between the UK and Ireland. But we do ask them to understand our particular issues in relation to Northern Ireland".

"In fairness to Speaker Pelosi and the Irish-American caucus they really do, and they have been very helpful," he added.

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, also pledged to protect the Good Friday accord by saying Ireland would pay for the healthcare of dual Irish-Northern Irish citizens after Brexit even if there was no EU deal.

Speaking alongside Pelosi in Dublin, he said: "We have no desire to make life difficult for the UK".

But he added that British Brexiteers "don't have the right" to determine Ireland's future by undermining the 1998 peace accords.

British prime minister Theresa May is currently holding talks with the opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn to try to build a majority for her EU exit deal.

"There's no agreement as yet" Corbyn told The Guardian paper on Tuesday, citing differences of opinion on workers' rights, among other issues.

"They've got a big pressure in the [ruling] Tory party that actually wants to turn this country into a deregulated, low-tax society which will do a deal with Trump. I don't want to do that," Corbyn said.

For his part, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also told MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday that the Irish backstop plan is not up for renegotiation.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, told the Financial Times newspaper that if Britain did not change its mind by 31 October, then it would have to leave with no deal in place.

"You cannot drag out Brexit for a decade," he said.

Brexiteers' revenge

With Britain now set to take part in the European Parliament elections in May, Brexiteers have vowed to have their revenge by disrupting EU decision-making in the coming months and by decimating support for May and Corbyn.

"The Brexit Party will sweep the board in these elections," Nigel Farage, a British anti-EU MEP who recently created the new faction, said in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

If May and Corbyn agreed to the EU customs union plan "the Brexit Party won't win the European elections, but it will win [a] general election [in the UK] because the betrayal will be so complete and utter," he added.

People like Farage "will poison the upcoming European election," Guy Verhofstadt, a leading Belgian liberal MEP, warned.

But Corbyn, in his Guardian interview, played down the importance of Farage's threats.

British voters understand that "we have a major trading partnership with Europe and all Farage is offering is some kind of never-never-land, saying we'll walk away from everything," Corbyn said.

The EU Council president, Donald Tusk, also played down the Brexiteers' threat.

"Some have expressed fear that the UK might want to disrupt the EU's functioning ... but the EU 27 didn't give in to such fear and scaremongering," Tusk said in Strasbourg.

"In fact, since the very beginning of the Brexit process the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU member state and so we have no reason to believe that this should change," he added.

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