NI groups seek US congressional scrutiny of any UK trade deal

Consortium tells Pelosi there is ‘growing sense of danger’ to peace from a hard Brexit

 Nancy Pelosi, above, and other senior Democrats have  warned they would block any proposed trade deal with the UK if Brexit were to damage the Belfast Agreement. File photograph: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

Nancy Pelosi, above, and other senior Democrats have warned they would block any proposed trade deal with the UK if Brexit were to damage the Belfast Agreement. File photograph: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

 

Northern Ireland’s civic and business groups have urged the US Congress to scrutinise any future trade deal with the UK to ensure it complies with the 1998 Northern Irish peace agreement.

In a letter to US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, the groups ask Congress to “satisfy itself that the truly transformational foundations for peace and prosperity here, which were laid with the indispensable aid of the United States, are not undermined in any manner by decisions to be taken in Congress”.

Among the organisations to sign the letter are the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Manufacturing NI and the Londonderry and Newry chambers of commerce along with Siptu.

The groups expressed concern at the recent decision of UK prime minister Boris Johnson to suspend the House of Commons for five weeks in a move seen as an attempt to block a no-deal Brexit by MPs.

“We are conscious of the urgency of these endeavours, given the growing sense of danger in Northern Ireland and our diminishing capacity to avert it – not least in light of the further diminution of democratic means of accountability in Westminster,” the consortium has said.

Concerns

The letter raises concerns about the risk to the peace process from Brexit and how customs officials and new infrastructure could re-emerge at the Border in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

“Experience has shown how processes of securitisation can rapidly escalate and expand, despite initial intentions to the contrary,” it says.

As a “cross-sectoral, cross-community, non-political ad-hoc consortium of civic and business representatives in Northern Ireland”, they said they would be willing to offer any assistance to US Congress.

The group, which includes human rights group the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said that to facilitate their co-operation with Congress, they would be sending a delegation to Washington during the week of September 16th and would be willing to meet both Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

Ms Pelosi and other senior Democrats on Capitol Hill have repeatedly warned this year that they would block any proposed trade deal with the UK if Brexit were to damage the 1998 Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday agreement, that underpins the two-decade peace process.

US president Donald Trump and members of his administration have expressed their hope of agreeing a trade deal with the UK after it exits the EU.

Key role

The Northern Ireland groups said the 1998 agreement was not just a British-Irish peace treaty but “an achievement of world renown” and they acknowledged the key role played by members of Congress.

They told Ms Pelosi that her recent comments in support of the peace deal “offer significant assurance in the context of escalating uncertainty around Brexit”.

The groups also acknowledged the statement by US vice-president Mike Pence on his visit to Ireland this week that the US wanted “to support a Brexit plan that encourages stability” and that “keeps the strong foundation forged by the Good Friday agreement”.

The letter was copied to senior members of Congress Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee that will scrutinise any future trade deal, and senior Republican Pete King.