British Prime Minister Boris Johnson swept into power by promising to take Britain out of the European Union and deliver a lucrative trade deal with the United States.
While it sounded good during Johnson’s election campaign, it’s a promise that may prove difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil.
The main stumbling block for Britain arranging a smooth exit from the EU lies with the Northern Ireland border. Both Ireland and the EU insist there must be no return to a hard border as that could threaten the precious peace ushered in by the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the Troubles more than 20 years ago.
However, there will have to be customs checks as the Northern Ireland border will become the UK’s border with the EU as well as with the Republic.
Ireland and the EU favour a system that treats all Ireland as a single unit with customs checks taking place at ports, but this arrangement is unacceptable to Loyalist DUP politicians as it would treat Northern Ireland differently the rest of the UK and so weaken the union.
An alternative arrangement would be for the UK to stay closely aligned to EU regulations but that is unacceptable to British Brexit supporters who say it would give Europe too much power and limit the UK’s ability to do trade deals with other countries like the United States.
Boris Johnson insists the border problem can be solved by technology but both Ireland and the EU insist that no such technology exists.
This has led to an impasse, one that Boris Johnson threatens to solve by leaving the EU on October 31 with no deal in place and with the issue of the Northern Ireland border left unresolved. He would then seek to do new trade deals with the United States and other countries.
President Trump is understandably keen to negotiate, especially as a US/UK trade deal could open the British market to the American meat industry.
However, Johnson’s plans could be scuppered by US politicians who say they will not ratify a trade deal if Britain does not protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited the border region on a recent trip to Ireland and addressed the Oireachtas ( Irish Parliament ).
Afterwards, she warned that the US will not strike a significant trade deal with the UK unless the threat of a hard border in Ireland is removed. “This is not a treaty only, it’s an ideal, it’s a value, it’s something that is a model to the world.”
“We made it clear to all, if there is any harm to the Good Friday accord, no trade treaty.
“I have to say though every single person, including Theresa May (former UK Prime Minister) who we spoke to on the phone, everyone said don’t even worry about that, it is unthinkable that we would even go there.”
It may have been unthinkable to Theresa May, but not to Boris Johnson so he could find himself at odds with many US politicians if he tries to force through his hard Brexit.
It’s not only Democrats who are concerned.
Peter King, a Republican representative from New York, also insists that the current unmanned soft border be maintained “If the British want to consider any kind of trade agreement with the United States”.
He told the Financial Times: “This is not just some parochial Irish issue. This is an issue that ended 800 years of struggle and to bring that back because of something like Brexit would be an absolute disaster.”
Despite the warnings, Boris Johnson remains confident that the UK can forge ahead with or without a deal that solves the border issue. So far, however, he hasn’t provided any details about how that can be achieved. Until he does, it’s hard to see how he stands any chance of delivering on his promises.