Many commentators are expressing surprise and dismay that a number of Brexit-supporting politicians and journalists in the United Kingdom are voicing “reckless” opposition to the ongoing work of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the regional and international peace accords which effectively ended three decades of conflict in the UK-controlled north-east of Ireland. However that opposition has been vocal throughout the last twenty years, championed by such Europhobic luminaries as the Conservative Party lawmaker Michael Gove, Britain’s current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In recent days we have seen his words echoed by a host of right-wing figures on the other side of the Irish Sea, including the newspaper columnist and Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, the reactionary Labour Party backbench MP Kate Hoey and the British-apologist writer, Ruth Dudley Edwards.
Back in the year 2000, while analysing the burgeoning peace process between Ireland and the United Kingdom, Michael Gove linked the UK’s “appeasement” of the Irish Republican Army with the country’s membership of the European Union. This, in part, informed his rabid hatred of the continental bloc, making him one of the driving forces behind Britain’s rejection of its EU partnership in the referendum of 2016. For the Surrey MP, along with his fellow British nationalists in the often shadowy Brexiteer movement, the Good Friday Agreement and its addenda represent an infringement of the UK’s sovereignty and a sign of its political and military failings during the so-called Troubles.
This can be seen in an opinion piece for the Evening Standard in London by Matthew O’Toole, a former chief press officer for Number 10 Downing Street, who points out that the 1998 pact is an:
…international treaty between the UK and Ireland. Until the agreement both the UK and Republic of Ireland claimed jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. This was a product of Irish partition, which gave independence to most — but not all — of Ireland. The majority — but not all — of those living in Northern Ireland wanted to remain within the UK.
Under the agreement Northern Ireland will remain in the UK until a majority vote otherwise, but its citizens have the legal and permanent right to be British, Irish or both. The Irish government retains a say in the running of Northern Ireland.
This is why hard Brexiteers have set their sights on the Good Friday Agreement: because it implies the UK’s sovereignty cannot be untrammelled, even after Brexit. UK sovereignty is, in one corner of the realm, qualified by the rights of one group of citizens and by another EU member state that has a say in the administration of that region.
[That is] …why some Brexiteers detest it.
And that is why the elected members of the ultra-right Democratic Unionist Party, who campaigned against the Irish-British peace process in the late 1990s and early 2000s, are now joining with the Tories and unionist fellow-travellers in Britain, attacking the very mechanisms which brought about a negotiated end to the 1966-2005 conflict.