For Leavers, a trade deal with America is the holy grail. But senators on both sides of the house say they will refuse to back it if the Good Friday Agreement is threatenedby Siobhán Fenton / August 19, 2019 / Leave a comment
The prospect of greater freedom for the UK to complete more trade agreements with more countries has been lauded by many Brexit backers as one of the chief benefits of EU withdrawal. Among these, the most hyped has been the possibility of a US-UK trade agreement.
In 2017, then International Trade Secretary Liam Fox pledged that the UK would be able to replace the 40 free trade deals the EU block has, by signing them with 40 other non-EU countries. He boldly promised to do so “the second after midnight” on the initial scheduled Brexit date of March 2019. He insisted that the new trade agreements would at the very least ensure trade was not damaged after Brexit, and could even see it improve.
Like many of the Leavers’ pledges, these ambitions appear to have been mere hyperbole. Months after the initial March Brexit date and just two months until the fresh date of 31st October, the UK has signed free trade agreements with just 12 countries and regions. The bulk of these amount to continuity agreements.
Most conspicuously, the much-lauded US-UK trade deal has yet to materialise. Last week, President Donald Trump spoke positively of its prospects in his characteristically bombastic style: “I think we’ll make a fantastic and big trade deal with the UK. That’s moving along rapidly.”
Despite his warm words, however, in congress doubts are growing, particularly about the potential impact of Brexit on the peace process in Northern Ireland. An increasing number of US politicians have warned that if the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in any way undermines the Good Friday Agreement, then they will refuse to give assent to a US-UK trade agreement.
Democrats Richard Neal and Brendan Boyle—who is also co-chair of the Friends of Ireland caucus—warned at the beginning of this year, for instance, that their support of any trade deal would be dependent on whether it breached the peace accord.
Republican Pete King said he and his colleagues would also have no hesitation in going against Trump and rejecting any trade agreement if they felt the UK was breaching the Good Friday Agreement: “I would think anyone who has a strong belief in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement…