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Neal warns against a post-Brexit hard border

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal

By Ray O'Hanlon

Fresh from his all politics is local primary contest in Massachusetts, Congressman Richard Neal is today focusing on Brexit and the increasing possibility that a no-deal UK exit from the EU could lead to the return of a hard border in Ireland.

Neal, in a statement, urged the negotiating sides to adhere to the existing withdrawal agreement that will steer the UK out of the EU at the end of this year.

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Said Neal: “Earlier this year, the European Union and the United Kingdom approved a Withdrawal Agreement that established the terms of the United Kingdom's orderly exit from the EU.

"I urge both sides to uphold the terms of this joint agreement, particularly with respect to the treatment of Northern Ireland, in accordance with international law. 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.

"The United States is a guarantor of that historic peace accord, which was approved by the people of Ireland, north and south, in an unprecedented referendum.

"Since the landmark peace deal was reached in 1998, the 310-mile border in Ireland has remained frictionless and invisible. Every political party on the island opposes a return of a hard border. I sincerely hope the British government upholds the rule of law and delivers on the commitments it made during Brexit negotiations, particularly in regard to the Irish border protocols.”

The House of Commons in London was today considering a bill that would violate those protocols.

Yesterday, MPs heard a member of the British government, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, admit to the chamber that the bill would violate international law.

Lewis stated that the bill would break international law “in a very specific and limited way” by circumventing elements of the Northern Ireland protocol.

According to an Irish Times report, Lewis later dismissed fears about the impact on Britain’s reputation, suggesting that “countries around the world will look at our wider position . . . on international law and the rule of law, for which we are a beacon around the world."

However, Jonathan Jones, the government’s chief legal adviser, resigned in protest against the plans, becoming the sixth civil service permanent secretary to quit since the beginning of this year, the Times report stated.

Added the Times report: "Lewis’s statement came as the latest round of talks on the future relationship between Britain and the EU began amid warnings from both sides that time was running out to reach a deal. Implementing the withdrawal agreement has always been a prerequisite for the EU to agree any free trade deal with Britain so there is little chance of an agreement unless Boris Johnson backs down.

"Undermining the Northern Ireland protocol could also wreck Britain’s chances of getting a trade deal with the United States, with congressional Democrats and the party’s presidential nominee Joe Biden alert to any threat to the peace process."

Congressman Neal would be very much to the fore in this regard.

Meantime, the lobby group Border Communities Against Brexit, has warned against the threat to the Irish protocol(s).

In a statement BCAB said: "The British Government is due on Wednesday to publish the Internal Market Bill, which according to sources will seek to remove the legal force of parts of the Irish Protocol contained within the Withdrawal Treaty which is an International Treaty.

"This is an extremely serious development, and has for the first time in a year brought about the very real prospect of a Hard Border on the Island of Ireland when the Transition Period ends on December 31st 2020.

"BCAB are calling on An Taoiseach to immediately demand that this week's talks between the UK and the EU be cancelled until this prospect is taken off the table.

"It is utterly unacceptable that an International Treaty could be deliberately torn up, in the full knowledge that the consequences would mean a Hard Border on the Island of Ireland and the havoc that would entail.

"The EU must stand solidly behind its member state, Ireland, and BCAB will also be contacting senior figures in the United States to ensure that there would be no UK /USA Trade Deal in these circumstances."

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