US politicians – with a fondness for Ireland – warn UK about Brexit negotiations

As if the UK doesn’t have enough trouble negotiating Brexit with the European Union, it has now entered the US presidential election campaign.

Democrat candidate Joe Biden says there will be “no US-UK free trade agreement” if London tampers with the exit arrangements over Northern Ireland.  House speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi and four congressmen also claim Brexit is posing dangers to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

Northern Ireland is an article of faith for the Democrats. Former president Bill Clinton still claims the lion’s share for bringing the conflict to an end.  Ever since President John F Kennedy in the 1950s, there has been a strong bond with Ireland.

It became an act of authenticity with Democrats to claim some form of identity with Ireland. Ireland loved the Kennedys. At Galway Cathedral, there is a mosaic representation of Kennedy and Patrick Pearse, the leader of the 1916 rebellion, praying to an image of the risen Christ.

Joe Biden is roughly five-eighths Irish. He calls himself “a proud descendant of the Finnegans of Ireland’s County Louth” with a great-grandfather from County Mayo. He tweeted, “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.”

A Biden presidency could rely on any Irish government to sheet the blame on London.

It seems strange that Biden and the Democrats would threaten the peace process but this overlooks the role of the US-Irish in east coast US politics.  For years masked IRA men would parade in New York’s annual St Patrick’s Day parade. In one parade, Jewish mayor Ed Koch carried a shillelagh and christened himself “O’Koch” for the day.

Bill Clinton loved Ireland and took a strong interest in Northern Ireland. Senator Ted Kennedy provided Clinton with robust support during his Monica Lewinsky impeachment and appointed his sister Jean Kennedy Smith as ambassador to Ireland.

One of the four Congressmen supporting Nancy Pelosi’s warning is a Republican, Peter King. The others are all influential Democrats. Eliot Engel chairs the House foreign affairs committee, Richard E Neal, is chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. William R Keating has a Massachusetts strong Irish nationalist constituency at home.

After Boris Johnson’s victory in the UK elections, President Donald Trump said the US would fast track a free trade agreement.  This has since fallen silent, possibly because the US special trade representative Robert Lighthizer makes no secret of his opposition to FTAs.

It looks like heavy work for UK trade minister Liz Truss.

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