Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden delivered a warning to Boris Johnson, ruling out any U.K.-U.S. trade deal if the prime minister’s plan to renege on parts of the Brexit agreement threatens peace in Northern Ireland.
“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Biden said on Twitter. “Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
Johnson has long touted a free-trade accord with the U.S. as one of the key prizes of Brexit. However, Biden’s intervention underscores how the prime minister is struggling to contain the political fallout from his plan to unilaterally rewrite the divorce treaty he signed with the European Union less than a year ago.
By overriding parts of the accord that deal with Northern Ireland, Johnson is risking the return of customs checks on the 310-mile (500-kilometer) border with the Republic of Ireland, threatening more than two decades of peace.
The government said the legislation aims to stop the EU erecting trade barriers between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland if no agreement can be reached on future arrangements for the region. On Wednesday, Johnson accused the EU of acting in bad faith during their wider trade negotiations.
Yet it’s clear Johnson’s position is not cutting through with some U.S. politicians. Biden also shared a strongly-worded letter signed by four senior members of Congress, which urged Johnson to “abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts” to breach its agreement with the EU.
We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period. https://t.co/Ecu9jPrcHL— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 16, 2020
“The United States Congress will not support any free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom if the United Kingdom fails to preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement and broader peace process,” the letter said. “If these reported plans were to go forward, it would be difficult to see how these conditions could be met.”
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The prime minister will be more encouraged by the tone of Donald Trump’s administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday trade talks are progressing well, and that he backed the U.K. as a trustworthy partner despite the furor over Johnson’s Brexit plan.
“I am confident they’ll get it right,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Washington. “We know the complexity of the situation.”
Still, the risks are real for Johnson, especially with U.S. presidential elections looming in the fall.
Speaking to Irish national broadcaster RTE on Thursday, Chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal said Raab had told him during their meeting the U.K.’s Withdrawal Agreement is “open to interpretation.” In response, Neal said he told Raab there would be no new trade deal between the U.K. and U.S. if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined.
The approach to the U.K. will be “trust, but verify,” Neal told RTE.
–With assistance from Thomas Penny and Dara Doyle.