OTTAWA — An Irish political party pushing for the unification of the island of Ireland wants Ottawa to halt post-Brexit trade talks with Britain, arguing that London is undermining the deal that brokered peace between Catholics and Protestants.
“It’s the duty of friends to sometimes tease each other when they’re behaving in a way that’s unacceptable,” said John Finucane, Sinn Féin MP.
This week, the Belfast MP, who sits in the UK House of Commons, traveled to Toronto and Ottawa to ask Canadian leaders for their help.
He wants them to get Britain to abide by the rules that have historically enabled seamless travel between Northern Ireland, mainland Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Sinn Fein is active in both countries. The party was once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, a Catholic militant group embroiled in three decades of armed conflict with the British over the status of Northern Ireland, a region of Britain.
The conflict largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which set out rules for maintaining peace between the UK and Ireland, including a virtually invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the European Union.
After Britain left the EU, the two countries negotiated an agreement that would allow customs controls on goods moving by sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The move avoids the need for a hard border on the island while also angering those who want to keep the region as a regular part of the UK
But this spring Britain introduced legislation to cut border rules, which the European Commission says violates international law.
The UK government is also changing human rights legislation in a way that Amnesty International says will go against the Good Friday Agreement, although London insists it is not.
“We are dealing, through numerous examples, with a British government that seems to have very little respect for international law or even international agreements,” Finucane argued.
Washington has cited these concerns as it slowed trade talks with Britain, while London resorted to talks with individual American states as it attempted to forge post-Brexit trade ties.
Meanwhile, Canada began formal trade talks with Britain in March to replace the post-Brexit interim deal.
But Finucane wants Ottawa to make those trade talks conditional on the UK complying with rules aimed at avoiding a resurgence of sectarian conflict.
“It (should) not even allow negotiations for a trade deal to get going if the Good Friday Agreement is damaged,” he said.
Commerce Minister Mary Ng did not comment on his request.
“Canada will always be committed to maintaining the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement,” spokeswoman Alice Hansen wrote.
In a statement, the UK government said its priority was to protect the deal.
“Our focus has always been, and always will be, maintaining stability in Northern Ireland,” wrote Ottawa High Commission spokesman Tom Walsh.
“The UK has always favored a negotiated solution, but we have also said we must resolve the situation in Northern Ireland soon,” he wrote, saying that was the purpose of the legislation Britain tabled this spring.
Finucane noted that Canadian officials played any role in the formation of the Good Friday Agreement at all – including former Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory and General John de Chastelain.
“Canada has invested too much. The international community has invested too much to allow it to be undermined or even undone by the UK government’s actions,” he said.
Sinn Fein is also pushing for a citizens’ meeting on what a united Ireland would look like, arguing that census data, election trends and polls all point to growing support for unity.
In May, voters handed Sinn Féin the largest share of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, marking the first time a Catholic party had outstripped Protestant factions in the region.
Finucane said this was partly due to the chaos resulting from Brexit, which he says has made it less attractive for the region to remain part of the UK.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 18, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press