Put U.S./UK trade deal on hold say Hibernians

Robert Lighthizer


By Irish Echo Staff

Put this deal on hold!

That’s what the Ancient Order of Hibernians is saying this week in response to signals from Washington that it intends pursuing a new trade deal with the UK pre-Brexit.

In response to a letter last week from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer advising Congress of the Trump administration’s intent to pursue new trade deals with the UK, the Ancient Order of Hibernians wrote Ambassador Lighthizer urging restraint.

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The AOH stated its belief that it was inappropriate to engage in such talk with the issue of the post-Brexit border in Ireland unresolved, and Britain’s previous commitments under the Good Friday Agreement unfulfilled.

The administration’s stated intent was also the wrong message at a critical time.

In the letter, AOH Political Education Chairman Neil F. Cosgrove stated: “As Irish Americans, the AOH strongly objects to the administration pursuing any future trade deals with the United Kingdom until the issue of a British Brexit border in Ireland is resolved and Britain’s obligations under the Good Friday Agreement are addressed.

“Despite numerous promises by Prime Minister May stating their would be no hard border in Ireland, with less than six months until Brexit becomes a reality the United Kingdom has yet to offer a viable solution that precludes such a border.

“A post-Brexit repartitioning of Ireland undermines the substantial progress which has been made in the cause of lasting peace since the signing of the U.S. brokered Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago.

“Brexit threatens to destroy the bridges which Good Friday has built across the centuries deep chasms of mistrust and replace them with a hard border both physical and psychological. The people of Northern Ireland rejected Brexit in a clear democratic mandate, yet now face a future in which they will disproportionately bear the negative consequences of Britain’s EU withdrawal. Britain’s failure to date to deliver on its promise to avoid a hard border should not be encouraged with the prospect of a U.S. trade deal.

“Secondly, in pursuing any trade deal America would be prudent to examine the integrity of the perspective partner and their history in honoring prior commitments.

“Two decades on, the British government has yet to honor many of its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement. There has been no progress made on the issues of justice for the victims of the legacy of the troubles, a Bill of Rights for the people of Northern Ireland, or support for those wishing to express their identity through the medium of the Irish language.

“This failure of progress comes despite pledges made by the United Kingdom in internationally recognized signed treaty. The fact that the current government of Prime Minister May is tenuously propped up by ten seats of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the only Northern Ireland Party to not sign the Good Friday Agreement, reduces Britain’s Good Friday commitment to govern with ‘rigorous impartiality’ to political farce.

“The cynical covenant which Ms. May has struck with the DUP is the raison d’etre as to why there is still no agreement on Brexit and a looming crisis in Ireland.

“Does the U.S. really wish to engage in expanded trade relationships with a partner whose dedication to fulfilling its obligations are so easily made redundant to political expediency?

The Ancient Order of Hibernians believe this is the wrong time for the U.S. to reward British indifference in Ireland with the prospect of a trade deal.

“A clear and unambiguous message must be sent that America will not engage in new agreements with the United Kingdom unless Britain honors its current pledge that there will be no British border in Ireland and makes tangible progress toward fulfilling its outstanding Good Friday Agreement commitments. As a leader in justice as well as in trade, America must send a strong signal that it expects it trade partners to honor their commitments and shall hold them accountable.”

Even as the AOH letter was on its way to Ambassador Lighthizer an opinion article in the political newspaper, The Hill, was flying a flag for a new U.S.-UK trade pact.

David Dingle, chairman of Maritime UK, and Duncan Edwards, CEO of British American Business, wrote in part: “Transatlantic trade has brought to the shores of both countries peace, economic prosperity and cultural enrichment. Indeed, the very embryo and basis of Anglo-American relations is trade….This Atlantic union transcends politics, parties and individual leaders. Always, our two countries have found common ground.

“At the very highest levels, there has been enthusiastic support for a U.K.-U.S. trade agreement and we are encouraged by the ongoing work of the US/UK Working Group on Trade and Investment. But there are certainly challenges; there are sensitive political questions around market access both ways which will need to be finessed. Both teams should therefore understand the political realities of the other and not seek perfection if it is to the detriment of good. We are optimistic that a deal, or, perhaps better, a series of deals, can be struck and the relationship that is already the envy of the world, can be made even stronger.”

The opinion article did not mention Brexit or Ireland.