DUBLIN (Reuters) – An influential U.S. Congressman warned Britain on Thursday that the prospects for any bilateral trade deal could be influenced by what agreement is reached over the Irish border in a Brexit accord.
FILE PHOTO: Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) speaks as the House-Senate Conferees hold an open conference meeting on the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
Richard Neal, chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, was speaking after meeting Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who was in Washington to ask members of Capitol Hill’s Irish-American caucus to use their influence to ensure nothing is done to undermine peace in Northern Ireland.
London, Dublin and Brussels want to avoid physical checks on the border between the British province and EU-member Ireland, which was marked by military checkpoints before a 1998 peace agreement ended three decades of violence.
However, with 50 days to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc, they disagree on the “backstop” Brexit negotiators say must be put in place to exclude such checks.
“It’s going to weigh on my mind. I’ve already expressed my concerns to the United States Trade Represetative,” Democratic Congressman Neal, whose committee oversees trade, told Irish national broadcaster RTE.
“We want a bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom, but at the same time I think that I would raise the same concerns that are being raised now and that would be obviously no return to a hard border.”
Fellow Democratic committee member Brendan Boyle last week introduced a resolution to Congress outlining opposition to the reintroduction of a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Boyle said he and colleagues had been meeting with officials from Dublin, London and Brussels for over two years on the issue.
Coveney, whose visit to Washington was a long-standing commitment and not a response to British lawmakers vote last week to seek changes to the backstop, said he was not lobbying against the United Kingdom or asking members of Congress to take sides.
“What we are asking people to do though is to inform themselves and to ensure that the influence that they have and the contacts that they have are used to ensure that nothing is done to undermine a peace process,” he said.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan