It didn’t take Nancy Pelosi long to shoot down John Bolton’s trial balloon. Monday evening, Donald Trump’s national security adviser tried to encourage the Brits on their Brexit adventure by promising tasty new bilateral trade arrangements. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely up to the White House:
With Britain’s economy suffering a battering in recent days because of the country’s impending exit from the European Union, the United States sent a familiar face to offer assurance: White House national security adviser John Bolton.
At a briefing with British reporters on Monday evening, Bolton said Britain would be at the “front of the trade queue” for a new trade deal with the United States, adding that any agreement could be worked out “sector by sector” to speed up the process.
Bolton added that he and President Trump were “leavers before there were leavers” who supported Britain’s 2016 vote to end its membership in the E.U. His message from Trump was simple, he said: “We are with you.”
Bolton also dropped this bon mot on the European Union:
“The fashion in the European Union when the people vote the wrong way from the way that the elites want to go is to make the peasants vote again and again until they get it right,” he said, according to the BBC.
That’s apparently a reference to the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which failed in Ireland on its first vote in June 2008. The EU then got a second vote in Ireland fifteen months later, when the referendum passed and the EU’s constitutional amendments went into effect. It’s unclear why Bolton made this reference, however, since the EU had no role at all in the UK’s own Brexit referendum three years ago except to oppose it altogether, and isn’t “making” the UK vote on it again. The EU negotiated an exit agreement with the UK government in good faith, which then failed to pass it, and Brussels doesn’t think it’s incumbent on the EU to fix the UK’s political issues as they leave. That’s a gratuitous and contemptuous non-sequitur, aimed at our allies and major trading partner.
Before we get to Pelosi’s response, though, it’s worth asking why Bolton is commenting on trade agreements at all. He’s not the ambassador, the trade representative, nor at State or Commerce, so he has no official role in trade negotiations anyway. Bolton’s making a promise that echoes similar statements from Trump, of course, but without any authority at all to speak on those subjects. Mike Pompeo and Wilbur Ross might be asking what Bolton’s thinking in injecting himself into this debate — especially as awkwardly as he did, too.
Pelosi then reminded Bolton that Congress has to actually incorporate trade agreements into statutes, and she’s not going to lift a finger unless the UK resolves the Irish border situation. That comes from a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill, where the status of the Good Friday Agreement is a source of considerable concern:
In a statement on Wednesday, the House speaker, who commands a Democratic majority, warned that the Trump administration would not be able to sidestep congressional approval.
“Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, especially now, as the first generation born into the hope of Good Friday 21 years ago comes into adulthood.” Pelosi said. “We cannot go back.” …
The existence of a powerful bipartisan Irish American voting bloc, adamant that it will not be complicit in any arrangement that undermines the 1998 Good Friday accord, is almost certain to complicate US-UK trade negotiations still further.
Brendan Boyle, the Democratic co-chairman of the Friends of Ireland caucus, told the Guardian: “The nonsensical utterings of John Bolton should not be taken seriously. He has no role in trade agreements. Zero.”
In other words, Boris Johnson had better know that Bolton’s floating checks his writ can’t cash. It’s not the first time Pelosi has warned that Congress won’t take up any trade agreements without a safeguard on the open border in Ireland, either. Trade agreements don’t take the usual form of treaties, which can be ratified with a two-thirds vote in the US Senate alone. The agreement has to be written into statutory law, which requires the House to act as well. Pelosi has a lot more say on trade policy, in other words, than a national security adviser.
Even if Pelosi was inclined to move forward, Congress still has yet to take up the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the replacement for NAFTA. Trump has been hoping to push Pelosi to get that process started, and which is more urgent for the Trump administration to score a win on Trump’s promise to rewrite NAFTA than a new trade deal with the UK. But as long as Brexit ignores the issue of a hard border in Ireland, the latter has zero chance of getting any attention at all, even in a potential GOP-controlled House after the midterms.
Bolton’s transgression is relatively mild, however, when compared to the latest from Johnson himself. Frustrated by attempts to block a no-deal Brexit, the Prime Minister accused opposing MPs of being collaborators with the EU in language that hinted at … treason?
Hours after senior lawmakers said they would seek to prevent any attempt to ignore parliament over Brexit, Johnson used a question-and-answer session on Facebook to attack them.
“There is a terrible kind of collaboration as it were going on between those who think they can block Brexit in parliament and our European friends,” Johnson, who has been hailed by the U.S. president as “Britain’s Trump”, said on Facebook.
“We need our European friends to compromise and the more they think that there’s a chance that Brexit can be blocked in parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position,” Johnson said.
A majority in Parliament have already expressed opposition to a no-deal Brexit in a vote that took place before Johnson became PM. It’s hardly a “collaboration” to reject the idea of a hard break without any kind of trade arrangement with the country’s key trading partner. Johnson’s rhetoric is guaranteed to harden positions rather than finding any common ground that might exist.
Johnson’s heading into a constitutional crisis in which he might be forced to prorogue Parliament to keep from getting the boot in a no-confidence vote. The US should distance itself from the trainwreck to come, Bolton included.