Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the U.S. trusts the United Kingdom to “get it right” on Brexit, even as a new controversy roils the years-long process -- and as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned it could torpedo a U.S.-U.K. trade deal.
“Look, yes, we trust the United Kingdom,” Pompeo said, alongside U.K. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab. “I am confident they’ll get it right.”
The U.K. formally left the E.U. is January, setting off a transition period while the U.K. and E.U. attempt to thrash out a trade deal. But those negotiations have stalled and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government last week introduced the Internal Market Bill -- which would allow ministers to rewrite parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that apply to Northern Ireland.
The agreement included a Northern Ireland protocol that sought to prevent a hard land border between Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.) and Ireland (an E.U. member.) The agreement meant that there would be some E.U. regulations and checks for goods going to and from the rest of the U.K. from Northern Ireland. The new Internal Market Bill would allow the U.K. government to overwrite those rules if there was no free trade deal.
But that has led to fears in London, Brussels and even in Washington that it could put the 1998 Good Friday Agreement at risk. That accord brought peace to Northern Ireland with a delicate balance that could be put at risk if a hard land border was erected between the two.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week warned that there would be “no chance” of a vital U.S.-U.K. trade deal if the U.K. were to undermine the agreement.
“Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The U.K. must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.”
On Tuesday, a group of House lawmakers from the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Johnson, urging him to “abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement and look to ensure that Brexit negotiations do not undermine the decades of progress to bring peace to Northern Ireland and future options for the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”
But Pompeo appeared to brush off those concerns on Wednesday, although he said “we’ve made clear our view of the importance of the Good Friday Agreement.”
“We know the complexity of the situation. We’ve done what we can to provide assistance where we can,” he said. “In the end, this will be a set of decisions with respect to this that the United Kingdom makes, and have great confidence that they will get this right in a way that treats everyone fairly and gets a good outcome for what it was the people of the United Kingdom voted for several years back.”
Raab, meanwhile, said he had “very positive discussions” with both the administration and with members of Congress -- and would later be meeting with Pelosi. He said the threat to the Good Friday Agreement came from “the E.U.’s politicization of the issue.”
“Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid any extra infrastructure at the border between the north and the south is absolute,” he said, before calling the U.K. action “defensive in relation to what the E.U. is doing.”