House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday warned that there would be “no chance” of a U.S.-U.K. trade deal if the U.K. were to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Irish peace accord as it battles with the European Union over the fallout from Brexit.
“Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The U.K. must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.”
The Good Friday Agreement brought an end to "The Troubles" that dogged Ireland for decades, and brought closer cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland -- including allowing people in Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, British or both.
Pelosi was reacting to an ongoing feud between U.K. and E.U. officials over Britain’s departure from the bloc. The U.K. formally left the E.U. in January after signing a withdrawal agreement that includes a complex arrangement for trade and movement between Ireland (an E.U. member) and Northern Ireland -- in order to avoid a “hard” border between the two.
Keeping the border open was a key issue of the 1998 agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of violence between those who wanted a united Ireland and those who wanted it to remain part of the U.K.
As talks for a free trade agreement between the E.U. and the U.K. have stalled, Britain has threatened to override parts of last year’s withdrawal agreement. A new bill put forward by the government would rewrite parts of the agreement, although officials have claimed the effect would be “limited.”
According to the BBC, the new bill proposed would mean no checks on goods from Ireland to the rest of the U.K. and would give ministers powers to modify or “disapply” rules relating to the movement of goods if there is no free trade deal. It says those powers apply even if incompatible with international law.
It has led to fears that the 1998 agreement could be at risk, fears echoed by Pelosi on Wednesday.
“If the U.K. violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress,” she said. “The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, pushed back on similar claims on Wednesday, saying the move was to protect, not undermine, the agreement from “extreme” interpretations from Brussels.
“My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK, but also to protect the Northern Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,” he said in the House of Commons. “To do that, we need a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations of the protocol which could lead to a border down the Irish sea in a way that I believe, and I think members around the House believe, would be prejudicial to the interests of the Good Friday Agreement and prejudicial to the interests of peace in our country.”
It isn’t the first time Pelosi has threatened to torpedo a U.S.-U.K. trade deal -- something that is seen by many as vitally important for Britain’s post-E.U. economic future.
Last year, she made similar remarks to the Irish Parliament.
"I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we must ensure that nothing happens in Brexit discussions that imperils the Good Friday accord – including, but not limited to, the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland," she said.
"Let me be clear: if the Brexit deal undermines the Good Friday accords, there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement," she said.
It’s in contrast to the position of President Trump and many Republicans, who have been bullish about the possibilities of an agreement between the U.S. and the U.K.