A sticker reading “No Border, No Brexit” sits on a road sign near the ‘Hands Across The Divide’ sculpture in Derry, Northern Ireland. (Photographer: Mary Turner/Bloomberg)

Brexit Irish Border Fears Spur Warning on U.S.-U.K. Trade Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union to alter how it would address the issue of the Irish border has drawn warnings from Washington that the push could jeopardize U.K. trade talks with the U.S.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Representative Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat and member of the Friends of Ireland Caucus, said he and others in Congress were concerned Brexit would see the return of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Such a move, Boyle said, would threaten the 1990s U.S.-brokered Good Friday Accord that brought an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland. “We see the Good Friday agreement clearly in jeopardy because of Brexit if that ends up inadvertently prompting a hard border,’’ he said.

It would also raise hackles in Congress and threaten support for a post-Brexit trade negotiation with the U.K., he added.

“It’s just a fact that if the U.K. reneges on its Good Friday commitments, it will have an impact on any future negotiation between the U.S. and U.K. It would be naïve to think otherwise,’’ Boyle said.

Irish Backstop

May is now trying to renegotiate the so-called "Irish backstop" with the EU after encountering parliamentary opposition to it. The backstop would preserve an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic if a future U.K-EU partnership deal threatens to put up barriers to goods trade at the frontier.

But some Brexit supporters argue it would also bind the U.K. to EU rules forever, thus limiting the benefits they see in an exit from the union.

President Donald Trump has set negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. as one of his trade priorities, and his aides are in the process of laying the groundwork for such talks. Any negotiation is likely still some ways away as it depends on the EU and U.K. resolving their future relationship beforehand.

But any deal with the U.K. would also have to be ratified by Congress, giving significant power to Democrats in the House to block any agreement they don’t like and to help shape U.S. demands as well.

Boyle said he and other members of Congress had made their concerns clear over the potential impact of Brexit on the peace in Ireland in multiple meetings in recent years with British and Irish diplomats in Washington as well as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

Brexit Irish Border Fears Spur Warning on U.S.-U.K. Trade Talks

Preserving an open border in Ireland and the Good Friday Accord had bipartisan support even in what has become a highly partisan Washington, Boyle said.

“One of the relatively few things that would unite our people here would be support for Ireland and support for the Irish peace process,’’ he said. “We do not support anything that would jeopardize that.’’

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