Coveney to visit US next week amid heightened concerns over Brexit

Minister for Foreign Affairs expected to meet Nancy Pelosi and Richard Neal

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is expected to arrive in Washington on Monday. File photograph: Reuters

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is expected to arrive in Washington on Monday. File photograph: Reuters

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will visit Washington DC next week amid heightened interest in Brexit’s implications for Northern Ireland among political figures in the United States.

Mr Coveney, who is due to arrive on Monday, is expected to meet senior figures on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal, as well as officials in the Trump administration.

His visit – the first by an Irish Government minister since Leo Varadkar’s trip to Washington as Taoiseach in March – underlines the importance given by the Irish Government to the US position as Brexit negotiations enter a critical phase.

Mr Coveney will also address the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, in a speech that is expected to focus on Ireland’s priorities as it assumes a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council in January, as well as Brexit.

Mr Coveney’s trip follows last week’s visit by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to Washington in the wake of Britain’s move to introduce domestic legislation that overrides elements of the Withdrawal Agreement it signed with the European Union. Ms Pelosi and Mr Neal warned Mr Raab during a meeting that a bilateral trade deal between the United States and Britain would not happen if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined by the new arrangements.

Good Friday Agreement

During his visit to Washington the Mr Raab shifted some of the blame for the fresh concern over Northern Ireland onto Brussels, stating that the threat to the Good Friday Agreement as it is reflected in the Northern Ireland protocol “has come from the EU’s politicization of the issue”. He added: “what we cannot have is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain”.

Mr Neal, who as well as chairing the Ways and Means committee which has authority over trade matters co-chairs the Friends of Ireland caucus in Congress, said he and Ms Pelosi had been assured by Mr Raab during the meeting that there would be no return to a border in Ireland.

“The challenge is - we were assured nine months ago of this,” Mr Neal said. “We were looking for clarification that under no circumstance will there be a return to the border in Northern Ireland. We were told that this will not happen.”

Amid mounting concern in Washington over the implications of Brexit on Northern Ireland, presidential candidate Joe Biden also weighed-in to the issue.

He warned Britain that the Good Friday Agreement cannot become “a casualty of Brexit”, as he stressed that a trade deal with the United States is contingent upon the Good Friday Agreement being upheld.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Mr Coveney’s visit will come just five weeks before election day in the United States. Mr Biden, who is an Irish-American, is currently leading in polls as he seeks to become the 46th president of the United States.