As Boris Johnson hurtles towards the Brexit deadline Britain would do well to remember Ireland's secret weapon - Irish America
Last year, 2018, marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and two decades of peace in Northern Ireland. As anniversaries are supposed to be joyous and celebratory occasions, the government should have organized parades in the streets, commissioned the creation of artwork, and self-righteous politicians could have patted themselves on the back after a few drinks in their office.
However, the British Referendum to leave the European Union in 2016 threw a wrench in the Good Friday Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed by 2017. Brexiteers recklessly sold the English people on a dream of a return to imperial glory, but this vision did not account for the fragile situation in Ireland.
It has been over 850 days since the political parties in Northern Ireland set up a power-sharing government in Stormont. The Good Friday Agreement is effectively on thin ice because the Brexit made the border issue in Ireland and the future of Northern Ireland as a whole uncertain.
The Conservative Party in Britain has confirmed Boris Johnson as the new Prime Minister, and he will be tasked with creating a Brexit withdrawal agreement that provides clarity on the Irish border and the backstop solution. While Johnson sees Europe as Ireland’s closest ally in their Brexit negotiations, it is, in fact, the United States that serves as the ace up Ireland’s sleeve, and thus the toughest obstacle.
One of the most crucial propaganda tools utilized by Brexiteers was the promise that Britain would be able to free itself from the grip of Europe and develop better trade deals with the United States. President Trump has promoted this idea by suggesting that Britain and America will enter a “phenomenal” trade deal after Brexit. Nevertheless, Irish Americans have banded together to veto any trade deal.
Members of Irish organizations, such as Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish American Unity Conference, the Brehon Law Society, and the American Committee on American-Irish Relations have formed the American Brexit Committee. The American Brexit Committee has lobbied for the interests of Ireland by petitioning American government officials and condemning any Brexit deal that would endanger the Good Friday Agreement.
The Irish American community has already forced the Trump administration into appointing an Ambassador to Ireland and urged American politicians to fight the erosion of the Good Friday Agreement, which the U.K. continues to in their words, “ignore, delay and obstruct.” These activists have organized a variety of meetings in New York and engaged in extensive letter-writing campaigns to members of Congress. The Irish American lobby wields massive political capital, and it has become an effective veto over any Brexit deal that may endanger Ireland.
Indeed, Members of Congress, particularly those who were invested in the Good Friday Agreement in the 1990s, have reacted to pressure from the American Brexit Committee and other Irish Americans. The Friends of Ireland caucus, which includes Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, and Chuck Schumer, sets a formidable obstacle to a post-Brexit trade deal. Brendan Boyle, the son of an Irish immigrant, and Richard Neal are members of this caucus and hold prominent roles on the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade.
As Boyle has stated, “It is through our committee that any trade deal must pass,” threatening to effectively torpedo any deal between President Trump and the U.K. Even Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker, stated that a U.S.-U.K. trade deal is “just not in the cards if there is any harm done to the Good Friday accords.” Many Congressmen such as Senator Murphy have echoed this sentiment so it is clear that Ireland has a strong network of support in Congress.
An organized Irish America will fight to maintain the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and ensure that there is no hard border in Ireland. It will disrupt attempts by Washington to engage in any trade deals with London. In doing so, they will protect the international treaty that was facilitated by the Clinton administration which brought peace to Ireland after thirty years of devastation and destruction.
During the 1990s, America was Ireland’s secret weapon in ending the conflict known as “The Troubles” because of their willingness to go against the British in support of Ireland. Clinton issued Gerry Adams a visa in 1994 against the wishes of many in the British Parliament and Irish Americans facilitated negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. The British would do well to remember the power of Irish America as it strives to develop its vision of a post-Brexit world.
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