Raab seeks to reassure US politicians over Brexit

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wearing a face mask waits for the French and German foreign ministers to arrive for an E3 Ministers meeting at Chevening House in Sevenoaks, KentImage copyright
PA Media

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Mr Raab wore a face mask with a union flag on it when he met French and German ministers in Kent last week

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in Washington, where he is trying to reassure US politicians about the latest Brexit developments.

Some US politicians are concerned about the UK government’s plan to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he trusted the UK to “get this right”.

But US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has said there would be no UK-US trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement was undermined.

Mr Raab met Mr Pompeo and will be meeting Ms Pelosi, who is speaker of the House of Representatives later.

Threats over UK-US trade deal

Brexit is high on the agenda at the Washington meetings, after the Internal Market Bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle earlier this week.

The proposed law would give the UK government the power to override part of the Brexit withdrawal deal – which Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with the EU last October.

It now faces further scrutiny in the House of Commons, and also needs to be passed by the House of Lords.

If the law comes into force, it would breach international law – a prospect that prompted an angry response from senior figures in the US last week.

Ms Pelosi said if the UK broke international law and Brexit undermined the Good Friday Agreement – the Northern Ireland peace deal – there would be “absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress”.

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Media captionThe Good Friday Agreement: A brief guide

On Tuesday, four senior congressmen also issued a similar warning, saying a UK-US trade deal would be blocked if the UK failed to preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the four congressmen said the plans to give ministers powers to override part of the UK’s exit agreement – designed to avoid a hard Irish border – could have “disastrous consequences for the Good Friday Agreement and broader process to maintain peace on the island of Ireland”.

“We therefore urge you 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,” the letter added.

The letter was signed by Democratic congressmen Eliot Engel, Richard Neal, and Bill Keating, who all chair committees in the US House of Representatives, as well as Republican Congressman Peter King.

However asked about the bill at a joint UK-US press conference Mr Pompeo said: “We trust the UK, we know the complexities of the situation, I have great confidence they will get this right.”

Mr Raab said “the threat to the Good Friday Agreement comes from the EU’s politicisation of the issue”.

He defended the bill as “precautionary and proportionate” adding “what we can’t have is the EU seeking to erect a border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain”.

Asked earlier about the letter from US politicians, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I think when they understand what we are trying to do they will share our ambition and concern which is to protect the peace process.

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Brexit cannot be “allowed to imperil” the Good Friday Agreement, Ms Pelosi said

Former Democrat congressman Bruce Morrison, who co-chairs a committee of American politicians dedicated to protecting the Good Friday Agreement, accused the UK of reneging on its withdrawal agreement with the EU.

He told BBC Radio Ulster: “That deal recognised the importance of the open border on the island of Ireland, and now some of that agreement is being taken back or sought to be taken back by unilateral action by the UK.

“Anything that says ‘well we made a deal once, but it’s inconvenient now and we’re going to recede from that agreement when Northern Ireland is at stake’ – we think that’s a threat,” he added.

‘Matter of law’

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the Brexit withdrawal agreement “cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied”.

Making a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, she added: “This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”

In his talks on Wednesday, Mr Raab argued that the government’s plans are precautionary and proportionate – and in response to what ministers describe as threats from the EU to block food imports.

Mr Raab also met Mr Pompeo, amid continuing transatlantic tensions over Iran.

The US secretary of state recently accused the UK and its European allies of “siding with the Ayatollahs” for blocking further United Nations’ sanctions on Iran.

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