Irish Brexit border issue could endanger EU-U.S. trade deal - congressman


DUBLIN, April 19 (Reuters) - An influential U.S. congressman
has warned the European Union that any arrangement that
undermines Northern Ireland's 1998 peace agreement could
endanger a proposed EU-U.S. trade deal, the Irish Times reported
on Friday.

The European Union last week said it was ready to start
talks on a trade agreement with the United States and aims to
conclude a deal before year-end.

"If America wants a trade agreement with the European Union,
which I think is very desirable – I want it – at the same time
you are back to the same issue on the border if you do anything
that dampens or softens the Good Friday Agreement," Democratic
Congressman Richard Neal was quoted as saying.

Neal is visiting Ireland with U.S. House of Representatives
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on Wednesday said the United States
would also not agree to any trade deal with Britain if future
Brexit arrangements undermine peace in Ireland, reiterating
comments made by the congressman in February.

The European Union has insisted it will not accept any
British withdrawal agreement that results in any infrastructure
on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, something
that would anger Irish nationalists and could become a target
for militants.

But some British politicians have called on Brussels to
soften this demand to get a deal done.

Neal, chairman of the Congressional committee overseeing
trade, said any Brexit deal must maintain the sanctity of the
peace agreement, the Irish Times reported.

How to keep EU-member Ireland's 500km (350 mile) border with
Northern Ireland open after Brexit is proving the most
intractable issue in Britain's tortuous efforts to leave the EU.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's government is in talks
with the opposition Labour Party to build support for a Brexit
divorce deal that parliament has already rejected three times,
potentially delaying the UK's departure date from the European
Union until the end of October.

Much of the opposition to May's deal within her own party is
centered on fears that it would not provide a clean enough break
to allow the United Kingdom to forge new trade deals around the
world, especially with the United States.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)