SDLP MP Mark Durkan has questioned British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ability to navigate Brexit without damaging the Good Friday Agreement.
The Foyle MP said the United Kingdom’s departure from the Europan Union, which was triggered by Mrs. May on Wednesday, would seriously impinge on Strand Two of the peace accord, which deals with north-south co-operation in Ireland.
Mrs. May, in her letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, triggering Article 50, wrote that “we must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland” while negotiating Brexit.
She also told Mr. Tusk she wanted to avoid a hard border, maintain the Common Travel Area, and ensure neither the peace process nor the Good Friday Agreement were jeopardised.
Mr. Durkan said: “The Prime Minister’s letter refers to doing nothing to jeopardise the peace process, and to the need to uphold the Belfast agreement.
“Does she recognise that the Belfast agreement exists in several strands, including strand two, which provides a framework for all-island co-operation and north-south joint implementation in key areas? It was presumed that all that was going to happen in the context of common membership of the EU, and using EU programmes.
“If that strand is not to be diminished and the agreement is not to be damaged, how are the Government going to do all that while at the same time saying that there can be no differential treatment for Northern Ireland, either inside the UK or by the EU?
“They cannot uphold strand two of the agreement and also put down that red line in respect of Northern Ireland’s prospects.”
Mrs. May replied: “We are very conscious of the arrangements in the Belfast agreement and of the practical issues that will arise as a result of the UK leaving the European Union because of the land border with the Republic of Ireland.
“We are also very conscious of the work taking place across the border, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, on a whole variety of areas.
“That is why we are working very closely with the Republic of Ireland Government to ensure that we are able to preserve the developments that have taken place and the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland.
“We recognise the importance of the Belfast agreement in the peace process and the future of Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, East Derry MP, Gregory Campbell, has warned Mrs. May that Brexit must deliver for the United Kingdom’s peripheries as well as the home counties if she wants to safeguard the union.
“The Prime Minister and this Government can do more to cement the UK together than almost any other single decision taken previously, by ensuring that as we forge more and better trade deals with the growing economies beyond the EU, that all the regions beyond the more prosperous South East of England benefit also.”