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The U.S. presidential election result represents a disaster for the British government. Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Richie Neal, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have repeatedly stated that they will not grant passage to a U.K. trade deal with the U.S. if peace and an open border in Ireland are jeopardised. Now the president-elect of the U.S. is of like mind. On September 16th Biden tweeted: ‘We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period’.

The traditional umbilical cord between the U.S. Department of State and the British government is also severed. During his tenure as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo threaded a line between supporting British interests and sympathising with the Irish, but resolutely prioritised the former. His replacement will openly oppose the roguish tendencies of this British government, particularly the flagrant breach of international law through its violating the Northern Irish Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement between the E.U. and the U.K. with the Internal Markets Bill.   

Hostility to the Internal Markets Bill also pervades in the upper house of the U.K. Parliament. On November 9th, the House of Lords hammered it in a vote by 433 to 165. That defeat puts Johnson in a comparable position to Theresa May whose repair work in Europe during her prime ministership was continually vitiated by her failure to pass legislation central to her strategy through the U.K. Parliament. Still more dramatically, it leaves Johnson with just a few weeks to reach a trade deal with the E.U. since the 27 national governments of the union would need to approve it and the European Parliament to ratify it before Christmas—or face a no-deal catastrophe on January 1st.

In addition to moral opposition to the U.K.’s recklessness vis-à-vis Ireland, there is a real-world incentive for Washington to make a trade deal with the U.K. conditional on protecting peace and an open border in Ireland. By next January, the concentration of the new president and the new congress will naturally be on public health and the economy. Neither the new president nor the congress can afford to make an economic mistake on the scale of enabling the British government’s behaviour.

Under Biden, the Speaker’s Lunch, a lunch hosted by the Speaker on around St. Patrick’s Day, will again involve the U.S. president. The Speaker’s Lunch began as a Washington institution when Tip O’Neill invited Ronald Reagan to attend in 1982, and it became an instrument of policy for the Irish. The only president to have rebuffed the speaker’s invitation to cross town to celebrate Ireland’s national day in the congress was Donald Trump, earlier this year. The incipient global lockdown in mid-March diverted attention from the disruption and the diplomatic setback that Trump’s refusal represented from Ireland’s perspective. At such events, Biden will announce his pro-Irish measures. Biden will almost certainly travel to Ireland while president, taking in the two counties (Louth and Mayo) where his distant cousins reside. The replacement Biden picks for Mick Mulvaney as U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland will not channel—as Mulvaney did—the British agenda in his/her dealings with the Irish government.
Trump’s bromance with Boris Johnson sustained a Brexit fantasy that a deus ex machina intervention by Washington would vindicate Britain’s position and deliver a splendid trade deal. The reality for the British now is that they have alienated the two biggest economic blocs in the world—the U.S. and the E.U. The only route open to the British is to negotiate in good faith and to accept their diminished and diminishing role in world affairs.

The Irish lobby has existed in multifarious guises in U.S. politics since the Great Irish Famine heralded mass emigration from Ireland to the U.S. However, the sole pressure group to have ever successfully moved U.S. presidents to intervene in Anglo-Irish relations was created by John Hume in the 1970s. A civil rights and political leader, Hume persuaded Ted Kennedy in the Senate and Tip O’Neill in the House to mobilise their colleagues through the vehicle the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus to trade their political capital with successive U.S. presidents in return for support for Ireland. The results were: the Carter Statement on Northern Ireland in 1977, White House coercion on Prime Minister Thatcher to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the full-scale White House support for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and a series of seven (so far) U.S. Special Envoys for Northern Ireland. That lobby coexisted with Britain’s assiduous efforts to countervail it. There were victories and losses for both sides, with the Irish prevailing for the most part. Given the calculus of power in Washington now at this crucial juncture, the outcome for the British is foregone. In this backdrop, a no-deal Brexit would be even more injurious to British interests than it was before Biden’s victory. Britain has no cards left to play. The only exit from its dilemma is to agree on a deal with the E.U., one which Ireland has to approve. Such are the fruits of a Brexit campaign consecrated to the cause of ‘taking back control’.

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