US wants a Brexit deal that ‘encourages stability’, says Pence

Ireland thanked for use of Shannon Airport - ‘ an important hub for US forces deploying overseas’

US vice-president Mike Pence and the second lady Karen Pence arrive at Shannon Airport for the start of an official visit to Ireland. Video: Reuters

 

The United States will work closely with Ireland and the UK to support a Brexit plan that “encourages stability” and “keeps the strong foundation forged by the Good Friday Agreement”, US vice-president Mike Pence has said.

Speaking after arriving at Shannon Airport on his first official visit to Ireland as vice-president, Mr Pence said that the US understood that the UK’s exit from the European Union raised “complex issues”.

Sitting next to Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at a press briefing, Mr Pence confirmed he would meet the new British prime minister Boris Johnson in the coming days after his visit to Ireland.

“I think the opportunity to better understand Ireland’s perspective and unique needs, particularly with regard to the Northern Border, will make us even better equipped to hopefully play a constructive role that when Brexit occurs, it will occur in a way that reflects stability and addresses the unique relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland,” he said.

Mr Pence did not respond to a question from The Irish Times about whether the US would agree a trade deal with the UK if Brexit damaged the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Pence expressed his appreciation for “the security partnership” between the US and Ireland, particularly the use of Shannon, which has become “such an important hub for US forces deploying overseas” and for the “close coordination” between the two countries in “US military operations around the world”.

He thanked the people of Shannon for “how they welcome our troops here at all times of the day and night and give them a warm Irish welcome either on their way into the fight or on their way home.”

“It is not a small matter,” said Mr Pence, who arrived into Shannon accompanied by his wife, the Second Lady Karen Pence.

US vice-president Mike Pence arrives at Shannon Airport for the start of an official visit to Ireland. Photograph: Jacob King/PA Wire
US vice-president Mike Pence arrives at Shannon Airport for the start of an official visit to Ireland. Photograph: Jacob King/PA Wire

In remarks to the media lasting about 15 minutes, Mr Pence said that it was “a privilege and honour” to be back in Ireland, noting that president Donald Trump had told him that the relationship between the US and Ireland was “as strong as it has ever been” under the leadership of Mr Trump and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

‘We are friends’

Referring to the Brexit process, the vice-president said t the US was anxious to see the Irish continue to grow and the UK continue to prosper.

“We are friends all and we will engage,” he said.

He spoke of how proud the US was of the 1998 Belfast Agreement that underpins the peace process, describing it as a “historic accomplishment of the Irish people.

“We will continue to encourage Ireland and the UK as these issues are resolved they are done so in a way that is built on a foundation of the peace carried in the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

Mr Coveney spoke about the concerns in Ireland about Brexit and the potential of a return of a hard border. He also talked about the “integral part” played by the US in designing and supporting Irish peace.

Brexit, he told Mr Pence, was a “huge issue for this country right now” and that it was “dominating politics here.” The Government wanted to try to “mitigate the potential damage of a choice the UK has made,” he said.

“As somebody who understands Ireland well I think you will understand why it is such an emotional issue here,” Mr Coveney told Mr Pence, whose ancestors came from Ireland and who is a regular visitor here.

“The thought of physical infrastructure re-emerging on the island of Ireland of border inspections posts, whether they are on the border or anywhere else re-emerging on this island, is something that we simply cannot allow or certainly cannot acquiesce to,” the Tánaiste added.

Mr Coveney noted that Mr Pence would be having discussions on Brexit with Mr Johnson in the coming days.

He said that many in the British government system understood the issues “but unfortunately some are moving away from previous agreements that have been made in the last two to three years without actually replacing those agreements which is credible or works yet.”

The Irish Government’s “ask” of the British government was, he said, that if the elements of the Brexit agreement that protected Ireland and the Irish peace process were to be removed, “they have got to be replaced by something that is credible and does the same job.”

Irish grandfather

Mr Pence said that the US would work with the Irish and British governments on Brexit to “facilitate the parties that are involved in resolving the issue in a way that reflects what’s best about the accomplishments of the last 21 years and the strength of our two economies”.

Referring to his grandfather Richard Cawley who emigrated to the US from Co Sligo in 1923, Mr Pence said that he was pleased to be back in a place that his grandfather “would always say with warmth and fondness in his voice… was the old country.”

The vice-president is also accompanied on his trip to Ireland by his sister, Anne Pence Poynter and his mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, daughter of his Tubbercurry-born grandfather.

Passing a photograph of Mr Pence and his wife taken on a previous stopover at Shannon hanging outside the room at the airport where he met Mr Coveney, the vice-president was overheard saying to his wife: “Karen, we made the wall!”

As the vice-president and Tánaiste entered their meeting, Mr Pence’s sister Anne was heard to say to Mr Coveney: “We are going to head to the duty free.”

Brexit detail

Speaking to reporters after his one-to-one meeting with Mr Pence, Mr Coveney said that their meeting was focused in a lot of detail on Brexit.

The Tánaiste said that Mr Pence regarded the 1998 peace agreement as “incredibly important” and “something that needs to be protected through Brexit.”

Asked if the vice-president spoke about whether the US would agree a trade deal with the UK should Brexit damage the peace process, Mr Coveney said that Mr Pence made no connection between the two.

The 48th vice-president of the United States will stay at president Donald Trump’s family golf resort at Doonbeg in west Co Clare for the two nights he will be in Ireland.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Pence will fly from Shannon to Dublin for meetings, first with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park, and then lunch and a bilateral meeting with Mr Varadkar at nearby Farmleigh.

Among the topics expected to be discussed at their meeting are Brexit, immigration and trade.

Later this week Mr Pence will travel on to Iceland and the United Kingdom, where the UK’s exit from the EU on October 31st and a potential future UK-US trade deal will also be the focus of his trip.