Trump not ‘picking sides’ in Brexit negotiations, says chief of staff

Mulvaney says Brexit is an ‘internal’ issue but Good Friday agreement should be respected

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney  joked that he was going to ‘put a plug in’ for Lahinch golf club where he is an overseas life member. Photograph:  The New York Times

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney joked that he was going to ‘put a plug in’ for Lahinch golf club where he is an overseas life member. Photograph: The New York Times

 

The Trump administration is not “picking sides” in the Brexit negotiations, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has said, as he called on the Good Friday agreement to be respected.

His comments come after concerns were raised during vice president Mike Pence’s visit to Ireland that the Trump administration is more supportive of the British position on Brexit.

Speaking at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the 1916 rising at the newly re-opened Washington Monument, Mr Mulvaney said the White House was receiving briefings on Brexit every day.

“We have a briefing on it literally every single morning, I think the president has talked to Boris Johnson a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. It’s become a regular conversation. We watch it, we watch it from a distance, we’re not picking sides.”

He said the issue is “internal” to Europe, but the Good Friday agreement should be respected.

“We just want to make sure that the Good Friday agreement is respected, that peace accords are kept and that things are worked out in such a way to peacefully see whatever happens happens.”

Mr Pence had suggested, earlier this month during his visit to Ireland, that the EU needed to negotiate in “good faith”, while highlighting the need to respect “UK sovereignty”.

Doonbeg

Mr Mulvaney continued: “We’re not weighing in but we’re not ignoring it either. If we see an opportunity to help resolve things we will take it but right now we’re a very interested observer from the outside.”

The senior official also dismissed the recent controversy over Mr Pence’s stay in Doonbeg as “ludicrous”.

“Welcome to Washington DC,” he said of the media storm that erupted over Mr Pence’s decision to stay in Mr Trump’s golf course.

“As you know, Mike’s family is from there. I actually had the chance to meet his cousins when I was over with the president a couple of months back.”

He also joked that he was going to “put a plug in” for Lahinch golf club where he is an overseas life member.

“As I say to the president, Doonbeg is the second best golf course in all of Ireland. That’s just American politics and my guess is that, to a large extent . . . the story is gone already and to be replaced by something equally ludicrous tomorrow.”

As Mr Mulvaney sought to play down the impact of Mr Pence’s comments earlier this month in Dublin, House Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal said that Democrats’ position had not changed, and that a trade agreement between the US and the UK would not be agreed if there is any threat to the peace process.

Good Friday agreement

“We believe that elimination of [the] border which was guaranteed under Strand Two of the Good Friday agreement remains sacrosanct. The Good Friday agreement is one of the great achievements of American foreign policy,” he said.

“Our position remains what it was in April when we visited the border. We continue to believe that if anything we should be enhancing all-island institutions.”

Mr Neal was speaking as he welcomed a delegation from Northern Ireland and an ad-hoc committee established to protect the Good Friday agreement, to Capitol Hill.

The group, which includes former congressmen Jim Walsh and Bruce Morrison, as well as members of Northern Ireland’s trade union, civic society and business communities, has been holding meetings throughout the week with decision-makers in the State Department and Capitol Hill about the possible impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.

Patricia McKeown, representing the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and Unison, said the aim of the visit was to highlight the impact of Brexit on the all-island economy, workers and on the Northern Ireland peace agreement. “Our message is that any Brexit is bad for both parts of Ireland but a crash-out is disastrous,” she said.