Trump envoy warns UK threat to breach Brexit deal could ‘challenge’ Good Friday Agreement

Republicans and Democrats united in wanting to avoid a hard border in Ireland, says Mick Mulvaney

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 02 October 2020 13:12
Comments
US envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney
US envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney

Donald Trump’s envoy to Northern Ireland has warned that Boris Johnson’s controversial threat to break the law over Brexit could present a “challenge” to the peace process under the Good Friday Agreement.

The prime minister’s threat to use his Internal Market Bill overrule elements of the Brexit withdrawal agreement provoked a furious reaction from Democrats in Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and influential Irish-American congressman Richard Neal warning it could scupper chances of a UK-US trade deal.

But former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s comments today are the strongest signal yet of concern from the Republican Trump administration of the potential for the bill to destabilise peace on the island of Ireland.

Mr Mulvaney said that, despite differences in tone which last week saw Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say simply that the US “trusts” Britain on the issue, the Republican and Democrat sides were sending “the same message” about the need to preserve peace.

Speaking to the Policy Exchange thinktank in London during a visit to both sides of the Irish Sea, Mr Mulvaney said that Mr Neal’s warning that the border issue would play a role in determining any UK/US trade deal was “a true statement”.

“That’s a true statement and that's not at all inconsistent with what you saw Secretary of State Pompeo say when Dominic Raab came to visit last week,” he said.

“The administration believes just as much in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as does Richie Neal… It is central.

“The two positions … are not inconsistent, we are just on different places on the continuum.

“What we're saying is, we've read the Internal Market Bill, we can see how maybe under certain circumstances it might in the future create a challenge to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

“But we're not there yet, so we are encouraging everybody to wait and see how things shake out and we're here in the meantime, to let everybody know of our interest in that particular topic.

“I think what you saw Richie say is if there's a threat to the GFA then it will impact the US/UK free trade agreement. Again, different tones, different points in the time continuum. Probably, at the end of the day, the same message.”

Mr Mulvaney indicated concern that the border in the Irish Sea created by Mr Johnson’s withdrawal agreement could threaten peace.

“Everybody believes that if there's a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we pretty much know what that leads to,” he said.

“We're not as clear, historically, on what happens if you draw a type of border in the Irish Sea, which is one of the ways that folks have described the protocol. It's not as tangible, perhaps, we're not sure what happens with that.”

He left open the question of whether the Northern Ireland protocol in itself “violates” the Good Friday Agreement because it fails to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom, as some Unionists argue.

“I think that point is well made and I certainly think a reading of the document bears that discussion out,” he said.

Mr Trump’s envoy stressed that the White House’s concern about Brexit is not the detail of any deal struck between London and Brussels, but the potential for it to impact on peace in Ireland.

“Whatever deals that y'all want to cut with Europeans, that's fine, that's great,” he said. “We stand back on the side - certainly very curious to see how it works out, hope it works out, confident that it will work out and that there will be some sort of agreement by the end of the year.

“But it's really through the prism of the Good Friday Agreement that we watch that because that's where we are so heavily invested … that's the one that we really have so much blood sweat and tears in.”

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