Londonderry MP Mark Durkan has warned that Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers are tearing up sections of the historic Belfast Agreement peace accord by leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union.
“I do not really think the Prime Minister fully appreciates - certainly, his Secretary of State does not - that when we negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, common membership of the EU was taken as a given, and it is there in the fabric of the agreement,” said Mr Durkan.
The Belfast Agreement, which was endorsed by 71.1 per cent of the electorate in Northern Ireland and 94.39 per cent in the Republic of Ireland, is most famous for helping establish a lasting peace on the island, however, it’s also explicit in its references to the European Union.
London and Dublin, for example, signed the agreement due to their joint desire of “developing still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union”.
They also jointly agreed that the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) “consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework. Arrangements to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings.”
The NSMC is also supposed to meet in an appropriate format to allow it to “consider institutional or cross-sectoral matters (including in relation to the EU) and to resolve disagreement,” according to the terms of the 1998 peace deal.
Mr Durkan claims all of this is being ignored by the Conservative Government and has also referred to the crucial consent element of the accord as outlined in Article 1, which commits London and Dublin to recognising “the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland”.
Mr Durkan argued: “At the core of that agreement is the principle of consent, but the people of Northern Ireland now find that they are being dragged out of the European Union against their consent, as expressed when they voted for the Good Friday Agreement and in the referendum last week, when 78.2 per cent in my constituency voted to remain.
“It is not enough for the Prime Minister to say now that the negotiations that will take place will sort things out for us.
“It is clear that English politics does not have a satnav or a map for where it now finds itself, yet he is simply telling us that we will have to tailgate and go where the impulses and prejudices of English politics drive next.
“We need to achieve a better situation to protect EU access and benefits for our constituents.”