US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Britain that there could be no post-Brexit trade deal with the United States if it proceeds with plans to unilaterally scrap some of the rules that govern trade with Northern Ireland.
The comments come after Britain warned the European Union this week that it could discard regulations that were painstakingly negotiated with Brussels, including border checks on some goods shipped from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
The post Brexit trade protocol aims to keep the British-run province, which borders EU member Ireland, in both the United Kingdom’s customs territory and the EU’s single market.
Pelosi said she viewed the existing agreement as essential to maintaining the 1998 peace deal that brought an end to three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
“If the United Kingdom chooses to undermine the Good Friday accords, the Congress cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement with the United Kingdom,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Britain says it is acting in the interests of preserving the Good Friday agreement.
Northern Ireland remains deeply split along sectarian lines after the 1998 peace deal brokered by the United States. Many Catholic nationalists aspire to unification with Ireland while Protestant unionists want to stay part of the United Kingdom.
Britain had viewed a trade deal with the United States as the one of the biggest prizes of leaving the EU but hopes of a quick agreement were dashed when the incoming Biden administration made clear it was not a priority.
Any US-British trade agreement would have to pass the US Congress.
Pelosi’s warning follows a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s newly appointed special envoy for the Northern Ireland protocol in the United States, Conor Burns, to explain the British position.
“Respectful of the will of the British people and of Brexit, I urge constructive, collaborative and good-faith negotiations to implement an agreement that upholds peace,” Pelosi said.