Irish Brexit fears aired at US Capitol Hill committee hearing

Congress members told that hard Brexit could lead to ‘the erosion of hard won peace’

Britain’s exit from the European Union has made the prospect of a hard border in Northern Ireland more likely, a US congressional committee has heard, as US politicians from both sides of the American political divide were briefed on the progress of the Brexit negotiations.

Addressing a sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Capitol on Wednesday, Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution told members of Congress that the net effect of a hard Brexit could be the "reimposition of a hard border, an end to most of the cross-border cooperation provided for under the Good Friday Agreement, and the erosion of hard won peace" in Northern Ireland.

Highlighting that the European Commission had identified 142 cross-border activities that would be detrimentally impacted by Brexit, he said that negotiations were currently at a deadlock over the issue of regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the European Union.

The hearing was also attended by members of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee who are currently visiting Chicago and Washington DC.


Noting that “it is hard to imagine any scenario in which the UK has greater access to global markets than it does now,” Dr Wright said that Brexit is likely to damage Britain economically.

Citing a recent speech by US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, he predicted that the United States will demand that the UK accept US regulatory standards as part of any future bilateral trade deal, including on agricultural products, a politically-fraught issue in the UK.

‘Unintended consequences’

Democratic Party congressman Brendan Boyle Democrat said that one of the unintended consequences of the Brexit referendum was its impact on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“One of the great achievements of American, Irish and British foreign policy in my lifetime has been the Northern Ireland peace process. Both Democrats and Republicans in Capitol Hill can be proud of that,” he said. The current “seamless border” in Northern Ireland was now “suddenly at risk”.

Party colleague congressman Gregory Meeks said that Britain's decision to leave the European Union was a "lose, lose" situation, noting that the US would lose its closest ideological ally in the EU.

But several members of the committee outlined their support for Brexit. The committee's chairman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, noted that he was a friend of both Ireland and Britain, but respected Britain's right to self-determination. He said the vote reflected an "inherent desire of people to control their own destiny, rather than being under the domination of another country or another group of countries".

Addressing the committee, Nile Gardiner of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, said Brexit should be a cause for celebration in the United States. He said the European Commission had taken “the wrong lessons from Britain’s EU exit”.

“Brexit sent a clear message that Europe needs greater sovereignty, decentralization of power and increased political accountability. This should be a moment for humility rather than arrogance from European Union officials,” he told the committee.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent