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Explainer: Why UK Brexiteers have been told to 'sod off' away from the Good Friday Agreement

It’s all about how it affects the UK’s Brexit negotiating position in Europe.

pjimage (2) Kate Hoey MP and Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Source: PA Images

IRISH POLITICIANS ON both sides of the border have been forced to defend the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) amid an increasing number of attacks from UK Brexiteers.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that criticism of the agreement was “reckless” and could “undermine” the peace process.

The GFA has come onto the radar of pro-Brexit politicians because its existence has made the Irish government a central player in the UK’s separation negotiations with the EU.

All sides agreed that the GFA must be protected in those negotiations and the British deal with the EU in December made specific reference to “protecting the operation of the 1998 Agreement”.

That December deal has been criticised by some hardline UK Brexiteers who argue that it could force the UK to maintain regulatory alignment with the EU’s customs union.

Now, with the inability of the DUP and Sinn Féin to agree a power-sharing deal at Stormont, some Brexiteers have taken the opportunity to question whether the agreement should remain at all.

Labour’s Kate Hoey MP told the Huffington Post:

I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast Agreement. Even if a settlement had been agreed a few days ago there is nothing to stop Sinn Fein or the DUP finding something else to walk out about in a few months. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term.

Writing in the Telegraph about the GFA, Tory MEP and one of the founders of Vote Leave Daniel Hannan said “its flaws have become clearer over time”.

“I don’t object to the Belfast Agreement on orange or green grounds, but on democratic grounds. It’s unhealthy to have the same people in office all the time,” he said.

Tweet by @Darren McCaffrey Source: Darren McCaffrey/Twitter

In another column in The Telegraph, journalist Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote that:

Realists believe the GFA has served its purpose and run its course, leaving behind the unintended consequence of enshrining sectarianism in the political process.

Despite the criticism from some of the hardline Brexiteers, both the British and Irish governments have said that 1998 peace deal is still the way forward.

In a series of tweets today, Simon Coveney said that criticism of the agreement was not a good idea.

“Talking down Good Friday Agreement because it raises serious and genuine questions of those pursuing Brexit is not only irresponsible but reckless and potentially undermines the foundations of a fragile peace process in Northern Ireland that should never be taken for granted,” Coveney said.

He later added:

Fine Gael’s EU affairs spokesperson Senator Neale Richmond was more strident against those criticising the GFA, telling those engaged in such rhetoric to “sod off”.

“Not content with stirring up horrible xenophobia in the campaign, they now want to destroy peace in Ireland for their petty brand of British nationalism! In terms they’d understand…. sod off! #StopBrexit, ” Richmond tweeted.

Asked about his tweet on RTÉ’s News at One, Richmond said that some “arch-Brexiteers” have been making “unwelcome” comments.

“These are the same people who said we need to respect the British vote, the 52%. It’s very important that they remember that 94% of people in the south and 71% of people in the north voted for the Good Friday Agreement,” Richmond said.

On the British side,  the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis said today that opposition to the GFA is not coming from within the government.

Speaking in Austria, Davis was asked about Coveney’s comments that people have been “talking down” the agreement.

Davis denied this was the case: “I’m not conscious of anybody talking down the Good Friday Agreement. Certainly nobody in government has and everything that we are doing is aiming towards ensuring that we meet every aspect of it. So I don’t foresee that being a problem.”

Read: David Davis: Britain won’t be plunged into ‘Mad Max dystopian’ world after Brexit >

Read: A Dáil committee is talking to unionists to prepare for a possible united Ireland >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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