US is unlikely to help Ireland in Brexit stand-off, says Bruton

Varadkar’s warning over united Ireland ‘wasn’t in any way provocative’ - former taoiseach

Ireland should not expect the United States to play any role in resolving the current impasse between the UK and the European Union over the backstop given president Donald Trump's desire to break up the EU, according to former taoiseach John Bruton.

"I don't see America being any help because as far as I can see Donald Trump would like to break up the European Union which he sees as a sort of an adversary and he would prefer the US to deal with individual European countries rather than have to deal with the EU as a whole," Mr Bruton told an audience in Co Cork on Friday evening.

British prime minister Boris Johnson is insisting that the EU drop its demand for the backstop - guaranteeing no hard border on the island of Ireland - or the UK will crash out of the union on October 31st.

A former EU ambassador to the United States, Mr Bruton said Mr Trump was the first US president to adopt such a position towards the EU while many in the Republican Party were also in favour of Brexit in the hope it would lead to a break-up of the EU.


"There are people in the Republican Party like Tom Cotton who said they are ready to negotiate a deal with Britain as long and as soon as they leave the European Union… I think that's just designed to feed into the pro-Brexit rhetoric in the UK," he said.

“I think those sort of statements are aimed at encouraging public opinion (in the UK) towards a no-deal Brexit in the in the hope of people holding that view in the United States that a no-deal Brexit could contribute to breaking up the European Union.

"Well, it's not going to happen. The European Union is not going to break up and it's certainly not going to break up on the initiative of president Trump or Steve Bannon or other people with Irish names serving in his administration."

Speaking at the opening night of the West Cork History Festival in Skibbereen, Mr Bruton also defended the Government’s handling of Brexit amid accusations that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had been provocative to unionists in some of his comments.

Media commentary

Mr Bruton acknowledged there had been media commentary with regard to the UK’s position on the backstop which had been less than respectful to Britain but he didn’t believe the Government had been disrespectful in anything it had said.

Last month, DUP leader Arlene Foster told Mr Varadkar to “dial down the rhetoric” over Brexit after he warned that everyone in Ireland and the UK should be afraid of a no-deal Brexit which could lead both nationalists and moderate unionists to question remaining in the UK.

Mr Bruton said: “As I understand it, offence was taken at an answer given by Leo Varadkar when he was asked if a no-deal Brexit could lead to a united Ireland and he said that it might and because he even uttered the words, it was seen as provocative but it wasn’t provocative.

“It was simply a reflection by him on an opinion poll that was done in Northern Ireland in November of last year...

“It wasn’t in any way provocative to refer to it but unfortunately people can be unduly sensitive to the point that unpalatable facts, even though they are facts, can be seen as provocative just because of the nature of the facts and the facts in that opinion poll were quite revealing.”

Asked by ITN News Political Correspondent, Carl Dinnen in an Q&A session what advice he would give the UK when it came to negotiating a trade deal with the US, Mr Bruton replied: "I would advise them to give priority to getting a trade deal with the European Union first. I don't know the exact multiple but I would guess they do four to five times the amount of trade with their physical neighbours in Europe than they do with the United States."

Mr Bruton said he believed if the UK had reached a secure trade deal first with the EU, it would stand them in good stead when it came to negotiating a deal with the US as it would leave them less vulnerable to the US reneging on any deal.

He said that negotiating with the US without a trade deal with anyone else in place would leave the UK exposed to possible changes in the US position once Brexit had been achieved in keeping with president Trump’s anti-European Union agenda.

“President Trump may go back to his mercantilist approach to trade agreements which won’t be favourable to Britain or China or Mexico or Canada or any of the countries that have done trade deals with the United States because the United States doesn’t stick with its trade deals.”

Mr Bruton pointed out that the US had withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while it had renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as they wish to deal on their own terms. “I wish the British Government luck,” he concluded.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times