Brexit and protecting the Good Friday Agreement
Martina Anderson MEP on the case for special status for the north of Ireland
There is no doubt that Brexit poses the biggest threat to Ireland since the partition of the island almost one hundred years ago.
The imposition of an EU frontier on the island of Ireland would reinforce the partition which divided communities, economies, land and people.
That is one of the reasons why, in the EU referendum last year, 56 per cent of people in the north voted to remain in the EU. That majority was made up of people from all community backgrounds and political outlooks.
Despite the fact that the majority expressed their democratic will to remain in the EU, the British government has repeatedly ignored the vote of the north.
There are many differing views on Brexit in Britain. However the context, history and circumstances for the north of Ireland is very different.
After a decades-long conflict peace was finally brought about when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in May 1998. Since then, despite problems, the peace and political process has progressed and sustained. However, Brexit has the potential to totally undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which in turn could put at risk the hard-won peace process itself. This must be avoided at all costs.
The seriousness of this has now been recognised across the member states of the EU and Michel Barnier as EU Chief Negotiator is mandated by the EU Commission and EU Parliament ‘to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts.’ This is also why the EU have put the issue of the border in Ireland as one of its three top priorities for the first phase of the Brexit negotiations.
Since the Agreement was signed almost twenty years ago, the border in Ireland has been transformed from a militarised frontier to an invisible one, where tens of thousands of people and businesses cross daily for work, trade and leisure.
The border is not just a line on a map. There are homes in Ireland where the front door is in the north and the back door is in the south, churches where the church is in the north and the grave yard is in the south and many hundreds of farms straddle the border.
All of this was based on the foundation of both Britain and Ireland being in the European Union. The legal arrangements around the political institutions in the north are founded on being compliant with EU law.
The political decisions of the Tory government on Brexit that they also intend to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market mean that a hard customs border in Ireland is inevitable.
The only way to avoid such a damaging scenario is to secure a special or unique arrangement from the north.
Sinn Féin has put forward proposals for this through our case for special status and we have been actively engaged on a diplomatic offensive across the EU building support for it.
More and more people across Ireland and across the EU now see the importance of securing special status for the north within the EU.
This would mean that the north of Ireland would remain in the Customs Union and Single Market and its citizens would have full EU rights including having access to the European Court of Justice. East west trade from the north to Britain would be catered for through a free trade arrangement between the Executive and the British Government.
To date, all of the proposals put forward by the British government have failed to address the challenges of Brexit in an adequate way and have been rejected by both the EU and the Irish government.
So the way to avoid the disastrous impact of Brexit on Ireland is through securing special status for the north within the EU.
It is vital that the Good Friday Agreement is protected in this Brexit process and this should be supported by all parties in Britain, regardless of their views on Brexit, for Britain itself.
Martina Anderson is Sinn Fein MEP for the Six Counties