UK backtracking on Brexit ‘doesn’t send right signal’ - US Congressman

Democrat overseeing trade deals says British reversal on North raises question of trust

A top US Democrat with powers to sign off on trade deals said the UK backtracking on the Northern Ireland Brexit deal "doesn't send the right signal" when it attempts to strike other deals.

Congressman Richard Neal told The Irish Times he was surprised by the "much harder line" taken by the UK government in recent days in the dispute with the EU over the Brexit trading agreement for Northern Ireland "when goodwill ought to be able to break the logjam."

Responding to the call from Britain's Brexit minister David Frost for a new protocol, Mr Neal criticised the UK for attempting to "reinvent the circumstances around the negotiation" of the Northern Ireland protocol and then calling for a renegotiation of the deal they signed up to.

"The idea that they could blame the European Union for its interpretation when the truth is they have already acceded to the agreement that has been implemented," he said.


On Tuesday, Mr Frost called for an entirely new protocol to replace the existing one and a reversal of the UK’s previous agreement where the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, holds an oversight role on EU-UK disputes over the implementation of the protocol.

“If the argument is that you can just unilaterally abridge an agreement, it doesn’t strike me as being a very solid remedy for future trade agreements or trade partnerships,” said Mr Neal.

The Massachusetts Democrat will have ultimate sign-off over any future US-UK trade deal in his capacity as chair of the powerful House of Representatives ways and means committee.

His remarks came after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned other governments doing trade deals with the UK that it has shown that it is a nation that "doesn't necessarily keep its word and doesn't honour agreements that it makes."

Mr Neal said that Northern Ireland “should not be held hostage to the whims of an agreement that many predicted would be one of the outcomes of Brexit.”

The UK as “a sovereign nation” had made “their own determination” of the protocol by agreeing to it, “but they also made it sound as though it was going to be easy,” he said.

Praising the Northern Ireland peace agreement, he said the goodwill that pact had “where everybody had to give up something, ought to be the template for the measurement of success.”

Mr Neal repeated his view that the US could not agree a trade deal with the UK if the 1998 Belfast Agreement was jeopardised by the fallout from Brexit. This view was backed by US president Joe Biden and the speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, he said.

Asked about comments by Boris Johnson's former aide Dominic Cummings that the UK had always intended to tear up the Northern Ireland Brexit deal signed in 2019, Mr Neal said he rejected outright the idea that international agreements should be broken.

“If the argument is actually being made in some quarters that you don’t have to worry about reaching agreements because you can arbitrarily break them afterwards, that doesn’t send the right signal,” he said.

He said if this was his position as the lead negotiator on the recent trade agreement reached between the US, Mexico and Canada then nobody would agree trade deals with the US.

“If we had gone into that negotiation by saying: ‘Well don’t worry about it; we will just not adhere to the parts of it we don’t like after we have agreed to it,’ I don’t think there would be many people in the world that would be interested in having a trade agreement with us,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times