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Trade deal depends on a seamless border, US political group warns

Bruce Morrison
Bruce Morrison
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

A group of leading Irish-American political figures has voiced serious concern about a hard border to the new Secretary of State.

In a letter to Julian Smith, they warned that nothing must be done to endanger the Good Friday Agreement, and that a seamless border must be guaranteed.

The 'Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement' includes former US Congressman Bruce Morrison, the former US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley, the former Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, and the former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.

Other experts involved include foreign policy expert and former Clinton adviser Nancy Soderberg; former senator Gary Hart who was a special envoy to Northern Ireland, and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

In their letter, the committee members congratulated Mr Smith on his appointment but said they were alarmed at Boris Johnson's statement to Parliament that there could be no backstop - even a time-limited one - in any Brexit deal.

"We view the belief that alternative arrangements can easily solve the problem of the Irish border with a healthy scepticism, as do many experts," they said.

They warned that a future US-UK trade deal would be "all but impossible" if the Good Friday Agreement was undermined.

The committee noted comments to the Irish Times last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She said that Congress would not sign off a trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement wasn't protected.

"We agree with her position," they said. "As former members of Congress we can assure you that getting any trade deal through the Congress is challenging at any time.

"The firm opposition of the Speaker and our former colleague, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Congressman Richie Neal, will make the task all but impossible. We also believe that this challenge should not be misunderstood by those pursuing Brexit negotiations for your government."

The committee said that whatever direction Brexit took, "we reiterate that the Irish border must remain open and seamless so that we can maintain the peace that we all have worked so hard to achieve together".

They expressed their commitment to the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland. They are seeking to meet Mr Smith when he next visits Washington.

Former Congressman Bruce Morrison (left) said: "We hope that the new Secretary of State will bring new energy to the ongoing effort to restore Stormont and the devolved government in Northern Ireland.

"We believe the decisions that have to be made to stand up Stormont, while significant, are not insurmountable and frankly pale in comparison to the challenges that had to be overcome to secure the Good Friday Agreement.

"The Secretary will have to earn the trust of all the political parties and must be seen as fair and impartial.

"We look forward to meeting him."

Mr Morrison said it was "no time to promote a political and economic mirage than an interim US/UK trade deal can be easily negotiated".

He added: "I assure you a White House photo op is not a trade deal by a long shot."

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