One of the British architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has warned that the Brexit crux – which threatens the North with a “permanent crisis” – is likely to persist as long as Boris Johnson remains Prime Minister.
Onathan Powell was British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief negotiator during the negotiations that led to the landmark peace deal. He told the Oireachtas Special Committee on the Good Friday Agreement that he had invested much of his life in implementing that agreement and the 2006 follow-up St Andrews Agreement that brought Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party on board.
“These were agreements that should be contradicted. But they ended the misery of violence and took the poison out of the identity issue,” Mr. Powell told TDs and Senators via video link.
Mr Powell said the accords allowed unionists to express their British identity and nationalists their Irish identity. “But this happy compromise has been turned on its head by Brexit,” he said emphatically.
The former Tony Blair adviser castigated Boris Johnson’s government’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Northern Ireland Protocol, which it had negotiated and signed. He said it broke international law, strained Britain’s much-needed relationship with the US and risked starting a trade war.
“But the biggest casualty of all this could be Northern Ireland itself, because it risks triggering a lasting political crisis there,” he warned.
Mr Powell stressed it does not necessarily risk a return to violence in the North. But there was a risk of creating a “permanent political deadlock” that would displace a functioning power-sharing government.
He said the UK government should do the opposite of what it is currently doing – “de-dramatize” the issues involved and return to real negotiations.
Brexit in 2016 meant there had to be “a limit somewhere” and the British Tories’ claims that this could be achieved with technology were pointless and proved unworkable globally. He said the outcome of an “Irish Sea border” was far preferable to a border on the island of Ireland – but it had caused problems for Ulster unionists.
Mr Powell said the biggest problem with the current gridlock is the “lack of confidence”. He said the EU has been flexible to find compromises and may need to show more flexibility.
He said he doesn’t believe trust and meaningful negotiations between the UK and the EU are possible as long as Boris Johnson remains UK Prime Minister.
“I could be wrong about that – but I really don’t think so,” Mr Powell said.
“The truth about what is happening with the Northern Ireland Protocol has very little to do with Northern Ireland and a lot to do with the British Conservative Party,” he added.
Mr Powell said he thinks a new Conservative leader – even a die-hard Brexiteer – could well return to meaningful talks between the EU and the UK to reach a Brexit compromise. “That’s my hope and my belief – but I could be wrong,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/business/brexit/brexit-deadlock-is-likely-to-continue-as-long-boris-johnson-remains-as-uk-prime-minister-tds-and-senators-are-told-41804185.html Deadlock on Brexit likely to last as long as Boris Johnson remains UK Prime Minister – TDs and Senators told