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Explainer: Has the US been paying attention to Brexit and does the White House care?

Politicians have only recently started talking about it and Trump hasn’t addressed it much.

Trump and May hold hands in the White House in 2017.
Trump and May hold hands in the White House in 2017.
Image: PA Images

WHILE BREXIT MAY seem like all politicians talk about in this part of the world, in the United States it has not been making much of a ripple.

And while this is unlikely to change dramatically anytime soon, there have been some indications our transatlantic cousins are at least beginning to take a bit of an interest.

It’s against that backdrop that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is in Washington DC today to meet with politicians who have been voicing some concerns about the ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

Last week, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania called Brendan Boyle introduced a resolution which sought to have the House of Representatives oppose the reintroduction of a hard border in Ireland.

The resolution said that the people in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland “voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement” and noted that the US is one of three guarantors of the agreement.

The bill says that Brexit has “increased concerns” about the future of the agreement and seeks to have the House of Representatives oppose:

the imposition of a hard border, whether one that is strongly controlled by officials, police, or soldiers, or a physical barrier.

After he introduced the bill, the Irish-American representative went onto Channel 4 News to speak about how Washington is viewing the British government’s efforts at resolving the Brexit impasse.

Source: Channel 4 News/YouTube

Asked whether faith in the UK government has been eroded, he said that it was:

The fact that a backstop was agreed to, in fact I believe it was even Theresa May and her government’s idea, then she goes to Brussels and signs up to it. And then last night in the UK parliament advocates that it be rescinded, that does not exactly instill a great deal of confidence here in Washington.

From the British government’s perspective, its primary goal in relations to the US on Brexit is to ensure that the countries will be able to trade freely afterwards.

In that same interview, Boyle argued that Britain may find it more difficult to agree a deal with the US if its trustworthiness continues to be lost.

I would say that any time you’re entering a negotiation, trust is critical. The ability to say tomorrow what you agree to today is critical, so when you sign up to an agreement and you renege and you advocate for an amendment that takes away a critical part of that agreement, that does not exactly inspire confidence.

Pompeo Russia Arms Treaty US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

But while an Irish-American from Pennsylvania may predictably be tuned into Irish interests, it also makes sense that at government level they have not raised the same concerns.

In May of last year, Boyle asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether he was aware of a letter from representatives that the US appoint a new Special Envoy to Northern Ireland.

Pompeo admitted that he knew little about it.

“I don’t know, I haven’t considered it. I’m happy to review the letter,” the newly-appointed diplomat responded.

In fact, Pompeo has only mentioned Brexit recently as an example “disruption” in world politics.

“Voters have tuned out politicians and political alliances that they thought were not representing their interests,” Pompeo told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

For his part, Trump hasn’t mentioned it much either having once described himself as ‘Mr. Brexit’.

Having tweeted extensively about it in 2016, the US President has tweeted once about it since.

The most influential example of Trump wading into the Brexit debate happened in November, a number of weeks before MPs were supposed to vote on May’s deal.

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Speaking before boarding his Marine helicopter, Trump questioned whether the deal was a good one for the UK.

“It sounds like a great deal for the EU,” Trump said.

I think we have to take a look at, seriously, whether or not the UK is allowed to trade. Because, you know, right now, if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us. And that wouldn’t be a good thing, I don’t think they meant that. I don’t think that the Prime Minister meant that. And, hopefully, she’ll be able to do something about that.

“But right now as the deal stands she might not be able to, they may not be able to trade with the US and I don’t think they want that at all. That would be a very big negative.”

Source: BBC News/YouTube

But if senior US politicians have not yet fully embraced Brexit as an issue, the former Senator who helped broker the Good Friday Agreement certainly has.

Speaking to Sky News today, Mitchell said that nothing should be taken for granted about the peace in Northern Ireland.

“Reason, common sense and prudence tells us that in light of the history of Northern Ireland, no step should be taken that might make the resumption of violence more possible. I think that’s the best way to frame it. It could happen anywhere, it’s not guaranteed to happen one way or another and we hope it doesn’t happen.”

Governments should not make public promises lightly and when they do make them they should keep them. It was over a year ago that the government of the United Kingdom and the then 27 other governments who were in the European Union, made a public pledge that at the outcome of their negotiations there would not be a resumption of a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland peace Former US envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell. Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

Asked what advice he’d give to Theresa May in thinking about the border issue, Mitchell said he’d only ask that she’d be mindful of the past.

“My only comment on this, and I don’t put it in the form of advice to anyone, is keep history in mind as you engage in these discussion and think about the context and think about the future. Peace is not guaranteed anywhere. Stability, prosperity, democracy and freedom are not guaranteed anywhere.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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