US will prioritise post-Brexit trade deal with EU over UK, says congressman

Democrat Brendan Boyle says ‘far larger’ EU economy will be ‘greater priority’ for Biden

The Biden administration will prioritise a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU over the UK because the EU economy is "simply far larger", Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle said.

The Irish-American politician, speaking to a Dublin webinar on Wednesday, said the next US government's main priority would be trade with China but that "a changing of the priorities" from the Trump White House will mean trade with the EU will take "greater priority" than with the UK.

"When you look at the European Union, it is eight, nine times larger than the UK market. It includes the largest GDP country on the continent of Europe in Germany, " he told the Institute of International and European Affairs.

“There is just no question when you look at this pragmatically. It is pretty obvious which one should take precedence and that is regardless of ideology.”

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Mr Boyle said a post-Brexit trade deal between the US and the UK would be “much more complex” than a bilateral US-UK agreement because there were “more cooks in the kitchen.”

The Democrat said he was glad that the UK government backed down on the threat to violate international law and reached agreement last week on operating the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed in January that avoids a hard Irish border.

“But that said, I will not breathe easily until we get final resolution between the UK and the EU,” he said.

He expressed concern that there was still no new trade agreement signed between the EU and the UK with just over two weeks until the December 31st deadline when Brexit takes effect.

Concerned

"It is still something I'm concerned about, especially given the fact that the UK a year ago signed up to the Northern Ireland Protocol and then suddenly in September said essentially, 'Never mind, we are going to violate international law,'" he said.

The Pennsylvania representative was one of a group of members of the US congress who travelled to the UK and Ireland and repeatedly expressed strong opposition to any future US-UK trade deal should Brexit violate the 1998 Belfast Agreement underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Boyle said it was "likely" that President-elect Joe Biden would appoint a special envoy for Northern Ireland to succeed Trump's envoy Mick Mulvaney.

“I would hope so. I would be pushing for it,” he said.

He also expects Mr Biden to visit Ireland during his presidency.

“I have no doubt it will happen. It will just be a matter of fitting it in the schedule,” he said. “Obviously it will be some time post-Covid.”

The only member of Congress with an Irish-born parent, Mr Boyle said the US government needed to “restart” the pipeline of legal immigration to the US from Ireland to the US.

He said he was “optimistic” that opening the E3 working visa scheme to the Irish, which fell short by one vote in the US senate during the last presidential term, could “reopen that pipeline.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent