US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned the United Kingdom that it must honour Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement as it withdraws from the European Union or there would be no separate U.S. trade deal.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is proposing new legislation that would break the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit divorce treaty that seeks to avoid a physical customs border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.
“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Biden said in a tweet on Wednesday.
“Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
Johnson insists he is defending not threatening the Good Friday pact, which ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between pro-British Protestant unionists and Irish Catholic nationalists.
He accuses the EU of trying to divide the United Kingdom and of putting a revolver on the table in talks to set rules for an estimated US$ 1 trillion in annual trade after Britain’s post-Brexit transition period expires at year-end.
“The PM has been clear throughout that we are taking these steps precisely to make sure that the Belfast Agreement is upheld in all circumstances and any harmful defaults do not inadvertently come into play,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
The prime minister says the United Kingdom must have the ability to break parts of its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU if London is to uphold commitments under the 1998 peace deal.
The EU says any breach of the Brexit treaty could sink trade talks, propel the United Kingdom towards a messy exit when it fully departs on Dec. 31, and thus complicate the Northern Irish border, the country’s only land frontier with the EU.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the bloc’s 27 national envoys on Wednesday that he was still optimistic.
The Bank of England, which on Thursday kept interest rates unchanged, said market contacts had “reported renewed concerns over recent Brexit developments”.
France warned against collapsing Brexit trade talks -- a step it said could suit some in London.