As many observers expected, this morning’s judgement by the supreme court in the United Kingdom has thrown not just the Brexit plans of Theresa May’s Conservative government into confusion but also raised serious questions about the UK’s understanding of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. A yawning void of competing interpretations has opened up between Ireland and Britain, with opposite views on the multilateral and multi-document peace settlement which brought three decades of conflict in the north-east of this island nation to an end.
The supreme court in London has ruled that the authority of the British parliament is required to trigger the calling of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the process which formalises the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. The head of the court, David Neuberger, has stated that leaving the EU would fundamentally change Britain’s so-called constitution (a debatable concept, for obvious reasons). What has taken some people by surprise is the judicial body’s complete dismissal of any concerns relating to the impact of the United Kingdom’s separation from Europe on the UK-administered Six Counties.
“…[the] Northern Ireland Act, which gave the people of Northern Ireland the right to determine whether to remain part of the UK or to become part of a united Ireland, does not regulate any other change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.”
“135. In our view, this important provision, which arose out of the Belfast
Agreement, gave the people of Northern Ireland the right to determine whether to
remain part of the United Kingdom or to become part of a united Ireland. It neither regulated any other change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland nor required the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. “
In other words, the concerns of the people of Greater England take precedent, legally and constitutionally, over the concerns of those living in the last scrap of the British overseas’ colony, be they nationalist or unionist. Furthermore, as the judgement makes clear elsewhere, the supremacy of the United Kingdom government and parliament has been in no way changed or altered by the UK’s participation in any strand of the Good Friday Agreement.
“150. The Lord Advocate and the Counsel General for Wales were correct to
acknowledge that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly did not have a
legal veto on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Nor in
our view has the Northern Ireland Assembly. Therefore, our answer to the second
question in para 126 above is that the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly is not a legal requirement before the relevant Act of the UK Parliament is passed.”
Given that Ireland made several significant amendments to Bunreacht na hÉireann in return for supposedly equal changes by the United Kingdom in the peace deals of the late 1990s and early 2000s one can’t help but wonder…
What the fuck was the Good Friday Agreement all about, then?