Opinion: No US deal for the UK unless all of Ireland protected from Brexit border fall out
AS the British parliament ties itself in knots trying to solve the self-inflicted wound of Brexit, it is the success of the 1998 agreement in opening the border between the two Irelands that is the greatest stumbling block to Britain's leaving the European Union.
Two decades ago, Irish Americans came together to pressure the White House to overpower objections in London and the US State Department and grant Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams a visa. That broke a political gridlock that led to the appointment of George Mitchell as Special Envoy and the Good Friday Agreement.
Let there be no doubt. Irish America stands with the Irish north and south who are adamant that a hard border must not be restored. If it is, Irish Americans are prepared to saddle up again to oppose any post-Brexit UK-US trade deal.
These are not idle words. Irish-American Congressman Richard Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee where proposed trade deals are first considered. Other members of Congress who have significant say in any trade negotiation are either Irish American or have significant Irish American constituencies They have made no secret of their insistence that a soft border, one where goods and people can continue to flow freely across it, is an imperative.
The facts of the matter are that, when it comes to the so-called backstop, there are no good options for the UK.
Either there will be a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, with all of the concomitant economic and human costs and which threatens to reignite the Troubles. Or there will be no border, which will mean that Northern Ireland will effectively remain in the European Union, and the rest of the UK will not.
Irish American leaders have already been in the halls of Congress making their position crystal clear. We cannot support the return of a hard border between the Republic and the north, just like we can never accept the return of the sectarian discrimination and bigotry that fueled the Troubles in the first place.
And it is not lost on anyone on this side of the Atlantic that while England and Wales voted for Brexit, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, as did Scotland, where the vote has reinvigorated the movement for Scottish independence.
The overwhelming majority of the Irish north and south have expressed a clear desire to remain in the European Union. London ignores that reality at its peril.
Brian O'Dwyer is an attorney and served as adviser to the Clinton White House during the peace process
Brian O'Dwyer – a leading figure in Irish-American business lobby
Brian O’Dwyer is a native New Yorker, whose family originates in Co Mayo. He has been involved in the promotion of Irish and Irish-American interests for decades.
He was a founding member of the Irish American Democrats and part of the delegation that accompanied President Clinton to Ireland on each of his three trips.
He also served as an advisor to the White House on Irish issues, including the peace process.
Mr O'Dwyer presently serves as chairman of the Irish Chamber of Commerce USA, where he works to facilitate American investment in both parts of Ireland.
His intervention, in which he is speaking on behalf of the powerful Irish-American business lobby, comes at a crucial juncture in the Brexit process, when Westminster must decide whether it will ensure that a no deal is avoided and therefore there is no subsequent hardening of the border.
Belfast-based Irish-American businessman Frank Costello, who will join Mr O'Dwyer in New York for the St Patrick's Day parade, said the pledge to block a US-UK trade deal if there was a disruptive Brexit, was about recognising the importance of ensuring a frictionless border and safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement.
"We are not looking to undermine relations between Britain and the US, but it is important that the substantial efforts to secure peace – including 83 trips to Ireland by Senator George Mitchell – are not undone with the imposition of a border and the placing the Good Friday Agreement at risk," he said.