29th Mar 2023


Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

  • Senior US politicians, like Nancy Pelosi and Rich Neale, have repeatedly warned that if Boris Johnson backs the DUP and abrogates the EU-UK withdrawal treaties, the chances of a UK-US trade deal are dead (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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In a letter to The Times (of London) this month Gregory Campbell, one of the eight British MPs from the hardline Protestant party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, says it is wrong to say the DUP are against the Good Friday Agreement's (GFA) abolition of a hard border in Ireland between north and south.

Yet in March last year the DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said support for GFA "is diminishing rapidly" — after the Ulster Loyalist Communities Council, which represent loyalist paramilitary organisations, announced they were withdrawing their support for the Good Friday Agreement.

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In 2003, Dr Ian Paisley, the founder and still patron saint of the DUP said: "Unless we destroy the (Good Friday) agreement, we will be destroyed forever."

And then on 17 May the DUP MP Paul Garvin used the inflammatory anti-Catholic invocation of "No Surrender" when discussing the EU-UK withdrawal treaty in the House of Commons.

DUP MPs could resolve this matter by affirming unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement and will not seek any return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland.

But they won't and instead are seeking to harness the authority of the entire British state to bust apart the UK-EU international treaty which prohibits any physical controls on people, goods or farm products circulation throughout the island of Ireland including between its British territory outside the EU and the rest of Ireland within the EU.

However, the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement (which involved the Irish government in Dublin, as well as the United States and European Union, which agreed to pour resources into Northern Ireland to make good some of the damage caused by the violence of the IRA and Loyalist para-militaries) is deep-rooted.

The links between nationalist English Conservatives and unflinching Ulster Unionists goes back nearly a 150 years.

The Conservatives changed their name to the Conservative and Unionist Party in order to capitalise on anti-Catholic feeling and at the time a rejection of the right of the Irish to self-government.

As the Tory prime minister Lord Salisbury said in 1886 "it was absurd to give free institutions to Ireland any more than to Hottentots.' This racist slur merges with deep anti-Catholic prejudice. A century ago English Tories welcomed the creation of what the Ulster unionist leader, Sir James Craig, called "a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people" when Stormont, now home to the Northern Ireland assembly, was set up after the partition of Ireland in 1921.

The troubles of the 1970s and 1980s grew out of a civil rights movement inspired by Martin Luther King against the denial of core human rights to Catholics in Northern Ireland by Protestant supremacists who were protected by Conservative ministers in London.

So the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended a century of Protestant Unionist domination in the six counties of Northern Ireland, was seen by more ideological Tories in England as a challenge.

Gove's track record

In the paper he wrote in 2000, entitled Northern Ireland the Price of Peace, the leading Tory politician Michael Gove, now a member of Boris Johnson's cabinet, wrote that he believed the IRA could have been defeated — and the Good Friday Agreement was a capitulation to them by Tony Blair.

Gove argued that the SAS and other undercover British security agents should have been allowed to continue in killing Catholic republicans in Ireland and could have defeated the IRA. Gove complained that "the British state deliberately held its security forces back from inflicting military reverses on the IRA because it preferred to negotiate."

After he became justice secretary, Gove in 2015 used his ministerial authority to campaign for a rupture with the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. He then claimed the Good Friday Agreement had turned the Northern Ireland "police force into a political plaything whose legitimacy depends on familiarity with fashionable social theories".

This hostility to the GFA runs deep in the English nationalist-right and is seen as part of the Brexit package of hostility to anything associated with the European Union or its member state governments — including Dublin.

The decision of the hard-line Brexit ideologues in the government like foreign secretary Liz Truss or the ex-diplomat Lord Frost to back the DUP even after the hardline Protestant identity party was repudiated by a majority of Northern Irish voters in the National Assembly election in early May has placed the UK on a collision course with the United States as well as the European Union.

Senior Congressional leaders like the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the chair of the House ways and means committee, Rich Neale, have repeatedly warned that if Boris Johnson backs the DUP and abrogates the EU-UK withdrawal treaties then the chances of a UK-US trade deal are dead.

It certainly is odd that in the midst of the biggest world crisis since 1945 in Europe the British government should seek to breach international law — the accusation made against Vladimir Putin — and provoke a row with the EU and US on behalf of a small sectarian religious identity party in a corner of the British Isles.

But the ideological passions of Brexit run deep in today's Conservative Party and helped make Boris Johnson prime minister. He is riding a tiger that may yet swallow him up.

Author bio

Denis MacShane is a former UK minister of Europe and author of Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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