British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
By Ray O’Hanlon
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in Washington, D.C. today on a mission to reassure the United States on the current state and course of the UK’s Brexit from the European Union.
Irish America is not feeling especially reassured and is letting Raab know it.
The bipartisan Ad Hoc Committee to Protect The Good Friday Agreement released a statement to that effect and signaled that it was mustering extra forces to shore up the GFA, even as the rift between Dublin, along with its its EU partners, and London grows ever wider.
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In a statement, the committee, co-chaired by former Congress members Bruce Morrison, a Democrat, and Jim Walsh, a Republican, stated that it had received a briefing from Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall on the current Brexit negotiations and had requested a similar briefing from a senior diplomat at the Embassy of Great Britain.
The statement said: “We remain vigilant and with a new sense of urgency we are actively recruiting additional Irish American leaders and organizations to build a green wall to protect the Good Friday Agreement. We fully endorse and commend Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal and Congressman Brendan Boyle for their strong and rapid response to the recent political decisions by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that have rashly put the Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy.
“The fact that two former British Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair, wrote an Op-Ed directly challenging the latest actions by Number #10 demonstrates the gravity of the situation ‘The government’s action does not protect the Good Friday agreement — it imperils it’ and puts ‘the Good Friday agreement at risk, because it negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process.'”
Ad Hoc co chair Bruce Morrison stated: “This is a compelling statement. It comes from opposite sides of the British political system, giving it true bipartisan weight. These former Prime Ministers were deeply involved with different stages of the peace process. Their direct language regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol should be heeded by all in Britain who care about the success that the Good Friday agreement represents. We hope that Boris Johnson will follow the wise counsel of these two experienced predecessors. And the U.S. Administration should likewise heed these voices of reason about a subject they know well.”
Co chair James Walsh stated: “Many members of the Ad Hoc Committee, including myself, helped to lay the groundwork to forge the compromise that became the Good Friday Agreement. We are not about to see our work and the credibility of the U.S. government, which is a guarantor of the Agreement, pushed aside by short term political expediencies of the British Prime Minister. We urge the U.S. government to step up and work with the Speaker of the House to send a clear and bipartisan message that the American people stand behind the Good Friday Agreement.”
The committee said that the majority of voters in Northern Ireland voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum and had continued to demonstrate their concerns in two very direct ways since then.
Approximately 175,000 first time applicants had applied for and received Irish passports since 2016 in order to protect their EU rights. Voters in the 2019 General Election voted out hardline Brexit supporters sending a very clear message that they fully understand the consequences of policies that go against their need for peace, prosperity and reconciliation.
“Going forward an open land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a key to a speedy economic recovery once the COVID pandemic is brought under control,” the committee statement concluded.
In a previous statement issued last week the Ad Hoc Committee said that it fully endorsed the statement released by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Richard Neal, that the ‘The UK’s departure from the EU at the end of this year and any U.S.-UK trade agreement must preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which has maintained peace and prosperity for British and European peoples since 1998.’
That statement continued that Chairman Neal and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did not visit the Irish Border to count the sheep on both sides of the border, this a reference to the visit last year by Pelosi and Neal to Ireland.
“They went to deliver a clear and concise message that the United States remains vigilant in protecting the gains made under the Good Friday Agreement and that any future UK/US trade deal is contingent on protecting the peace process.
“The absence of a hard land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is one of the most tangible aspects of the Agreement and remains central to the speedy economic recovery of both Ireland and Northern Ireland following the economic downturn caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. The Ad Hoc Committee believes that all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement must be fully implemented in all of its parts with special attention given to equality and human rights provisions.
“The current status of trade negotiations between the UK and the E.U. remain a concern to us. We believe that the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement is a hard won compromise that requires respect from all parties given its status as an International Agreement. Political leaders and trade negotiators may saber rattle all they want as they seek to negotiate a much needed trade deal but the Good Friday Agreement cannot be viewed as a bargaining chip.
“Irish America has a deep abiding interest in Ireland’s future and sudden political U turns to gain momentary advantage at the expense of the peace process can quickly erode a trust that has taken years to establish. The British government must weigh its next steps carefully and consider its long term economic and political relationship with the United States as it goes forward.”
Against the backdrop of the Raab visit to Washington, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the support from Congress members.
“I welcome the latest public intervention from key political figures in the U.S. Congress restating to Boris Johnson that Congress will not approve a post-Brexit trade deal with the British government if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined, McDonald said.
“This is a bi-partisan issue that unites Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Earlier this year, the Congress unanimously agreed a resolution to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and to avoid a hard border arising from Brexit. That remains the position of the U.S. Congress.
“I value the ongoing support for our peace process from political figures in the United States and the wider international community. At the beginning of the summer, I briefed the Congressional Friends of Ireland on the challenges facing our agreements due to the actions of the British government and we remain in contact with political and civic leaders in the U.S.
“It has become increasingly clear that political figures in the U.S. have a better understanding and appreciation of the Good Friday Agreement than the British government and won’t be swayed by rhetoric from Dominic Raab in Washington today
“The New Withdrawal Agreement is an international agreement; it must be maintained and protected in order to prevent the imposition of a hard border, to protect our economy – north and south – and our peace agreements.”
The New York Times, in reporting on the Raab visit, reported that the British government’s “stance on Ireland” posed a risk to the trade agreement with the U.S. that London is urgently seeking as it prepares to finally leave the EU.
Congressman Richard Neal, in speaking to the Times, stated, with regard to the British government: “They seem to always say ‘No problem, we will never disturb the Good Friday Agreement.’ And then they take positions that disturb the Good Friday Agreement.”
The Times report noted that the British government’s apparent heading for the EU exit minus a deal might not matter much to the Trump administration and the president who was “deeply hostile” toward the European Union.”
“But it could hurt Britain if the White House changes hands after November’s election.”