UK bids to reassure over N.Ireland after Biden warning
Britain on Thursday played down a warning by White House candidate Joe Biden of potential fallout on a future UK-US trade deal amid a Brexit war of words with the European Union.
Democrat Biden, who has often spoken passionately of his Irish roots, said peace in Northern Ireland could not “become a casualty of Brexit”.
“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the (peace) agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period,” Biden, who faces President Donald Trump in the November 3 election, wrote on Twitter.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said a contentious bill currently being debated by parliament was intended “precisely to make sure that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is upheld in all circumstances”.
“We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” he told reporters.
The planned legislation — which Britain admits will override parts of its Brexit treaty — has provoked EU threats of legal action unless it is withdrawn by the end of this month.
The bill would make unilateral changes to regulate trade with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, if London cannot seal a post-Brexit deal with the EU by the end of this year.
Northern Ireland is set to remain bound by some EU rules to ensure its border with Ireland remains open — a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence.
But Johnson charges that the EU could carry out a food “blockade” between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, which would threaten peace and territorial integrity as the UK struggles to extricate itself from nearly 50 years of European integration.
“We will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
– ‘Material breach’ –
Biden’s strong words came as British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab visited Washington on Wednesday to try to allay US concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
After talks with Raab, Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there was “absolutely no chance” of Congress passing a US-UK trade deal if Brexit undercuts the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
But as London bids to start a new chapter of global trade shorn of EU membership, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced confidence after meeting Raab that Britain would find a “good outcome” in its standoff with the EU.
On Thursday, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and UK counterpart David Frost met in Brussels to try to avert a cliff-edge “no deal” at the end of this year.
Rejecting Johnson’s accusations, EU spokesman Eric Mamer insisted Brussels was still negotiating “in perfectly good faith”.
But trust is at a premium. Britain’s government issued a document spelling out that it would only apply the bill if the EU proves guilty of a “material breach” of provisions designed to keep Northern Ireland at peace.
After quelling one backbench revolt over the bill and under pressure to make its intent clearer, the government spelt out various scenarios in which the bill’s provisions would be executed.
Examples included unfair burdens being applied to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, and an EU refusal to list UK food exports as safe, “for manifestly unreasonable or poorly justified reasons”.
But in an apparent olive branch to Brussels, the document said the government would also seek to resolve post-Brexit disputes with the EU in “appropriate formal dispute settlement mechanisms”, not unilaterally.