- Joe Biden triggered a row in the UK by threatening to veto a transatlantic trade deal if Prime Minister Boris Johnson breaks his Brexit deal with the European Union.
- Johnson has vowed to disapply the deal he signed with the EU over trade and border provisions with Northern Ireland — and to break international law in order to do so.
- Senior congressional lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have told Johnson that there would be no free-trade deal with the US if he went ahead with this plan.
- On Wednesday, Biden tweeted that any trade deal was “contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border.”
- Johnson’s supporters branded Biden a “Boris hater” and ordered him not to lecture the prime minister.
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Joe Biden enraged supporters of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday by threatening to veto a transatlantic trade deal if the UK goes ahead with its plan to break its Brexit agreement with the European Union.
Johnson caused an international row this month when his government admitted that it planned to break international law by overwriting its deal with the EU related to Northern Ireland.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of senior congressional lawmakers have said that any attempt to break the Brexit deal would wreck any hopes of a UK-US trade deal.
Biden, the US Democratic presidential nominee, tweeted on Wednesday: “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 U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
Johnson’s domestic opponents welcomed Biden’s remark, with Lisa Nandy, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, saying that it showed “the scale of the damage the Government have done to Britain’s standing in the world.”
Conservative Party supporters of Johnson reacted furiously. Conor Burns, a former UK trade minister, accused Biden of not understanding the Good Friday Agreement, while another former UK Cabinet minister told Politico Playbook that Biden was a “Brexit and Boris hater” who “doesn’t understand” the Northern Ireland issue.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader, went further, telling Biden to stop lecturing the UK.
“We don’t need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr. Biden,” he told The Times of London. “If I were him I would worry more about the need for a peace deal in the USA to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations.”
A spokesman for Johnson suggested on Thursday that Biden had misunderstood the government’s plans.
“We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and we will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure our position is understood,” the spokesman said.
The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, went to Washington this week to reassure congressional lawmakers that Johnson’s plan would not undermine the Good Friday Agreement and peace on the island of Ireland.
However, Raab’s attempts to calm fears across the Atlantic appeared to fail, as Biden warned the UK government that it risked jeopardizing any prospect of a post-Brexit free-trade agreement with the US.
And following a meeting with Raab on Wednesday, Pelosi reiterated her warning that there would be no UK-US free-trade deal if Johnson’s government did not uphold the Northern Ireland protocol agreed with the EU last year.
She said in a statement that she told Raab that “if the U.K. violates its international agreements and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress.”
Johnson’s plan to disapply parts of the Northern Ireland protocol infuriated Brussels, with the EU threatening to take legal action against the UK unless it changed course. It also caused consternation in Westminster, with Johnson on Wednesday agreeing to give Parliament a vote on the move amid a rebellion from dozens of his own Conservative MPs.
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However, the interventions of several senior US politicians suggest that the move would damage the prospect of not only a UK trade deal with the EU but an agreement with the US.
On Tuesday, four top US representatives — Eliot Engel, Richard Neal, William Keating, and Peter King — told Johnson they were “disturbed” by the move. “We therefore urge you to abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement,” they said in a letter.
Washington has a strong interest in how Brexit will affect Northern Ireland; the US played a key role in brokering peace in the province. There is fear that a failure to uphold the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, would lead to the return of physical border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Raab risked further inflaming tensions with Brussels, saying that any threat to the Good Friday Agreement “has come from the EU’s politicization of the issue” of Northern Ireland.
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