By Mark Buckley
There is a systematic effort by the British government and its allies to renege on its international agreements and treaties in relation to Ireland.
The latest breach of a previous settlement came with the passage of the obscure-sounding Northern Ireland Executive Formation and Exercise Functions Bill passed in the House of Commons last week. This Bill goes back on a key part of the St. Andrews Agreement between the British and Irish governments and all the parties in the North of Ireland. It had also been written into British law.
Under the St. Andrews Agreement, if after a period when the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have not been functioning, fresh elections must be called. The effect of last week’s bill is to postpone triggering those elections until 26 March 2019. This is a matter of days before the Brexit date of 29 March.
The Secretary of State Karen Bradley claimed that the parties in the North have been consulted on this. This is blatantly untrue. The only party in the North that this suits is the DUP, who are currently propping up the minority Tory government. The DUP is running scared of a new election because on a series of issues, such as language equality, a woman’s right to choose, equal marriage and above all on Brexit, majority opinion is against them. Polls show support for all these equality measures and the Brexit vote in the North was 56/44 in favour of Remain. It also suits the Tories, who may need DUP votes to push through a Hard Brexit or even no deal.
Clearly, the Tory government’s immediate survival depends on the DUP. This explains Bradley’s recent anti-democratic comments that the government must listen to the 60 per cent of Unionists who voted to Leave. But many in the Tory party have long opposed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and all its consequent agreements, such as St. Andrews.
Now, by a Tory party increasingly intent on a damaging Brexit increasingly regard the GFA as an irritant, despite it being an international treaty between governments. Taking the North of Ireland out of the Single Market and Customs Union against its express wish is clearly a breach of the commitment in the GFA that any constitutional change in the North must be by popular consent.
In addition, many Tories and Blairite Labour figures have been campaigning for immunity for British forces in Ireland who have committed murder. The government is also attempting to gerrymander the next elections through the Boundary Review, while preserving the DUP’s narrow lead in the North by allocating seats on an entirely different basis to Britain. It is a pageant of reaction.
Labour has every reason to oppose this entire rotten, undemocratic mess. The Tories are effectively restoring the Unionist veto on progress in Ireland by stealth. They are ripping up international Treaties and agreements in the process and preserving their own anti-democratic interests. Labour needs to bring these into sharper focus, as the public overwhelmingly supports the outcome of the GFA and will oppose any party undermining it for their own narrow advantage.