Dublin Acting 'Against Spirit' Of Good Friday Agreement In Brexit Talks - Ex-Diplomat

Dublin Acting 'Against Spirit' of Good Friday Agreement in Brexit Talks - Ex-Diplomat

Both Dublin and Brussels are actively using the current deadlock over the Irish border to wangle the best Brexit deal out of the United Kingdom, in the process "acting against the spirit" of the cooperative basis of the Good Friday Agreement, Ray Bassett, former Irish ambassador to Canada and now Senior Fellow on EU Affairs at Policy Exchange think tank, told Sputnik.

LONDON (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 09th November, 2018) Both Dublin and Brussels are actively using the current deadlock over the Irish border to wangle the best Brexit deal out of the United Kingdom, in the process "acting against the spirit" of the cooperative basis of the Good Friday Agreement, Ray Bassett, former Irish ambassador to Canada and now Senior Fellow on EU Affairs at Policy Exchange think tank, told Sputnik.

The solution for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been one of the thorniest issues in Brexit talks. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which helped put an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland between those who wanted the region to remain part of the United Kingdom and those who did not, has been featured prominently in the public discussion around Irish border.

"The basis of the Good Friday Agreement was that we'd all work together, but in the present scenario that's not happening. The Irish government is against compromising with the United Kingdom which is certainly against the spirit in which that agreement was put together. If you don't keep consent, no agreement works," Bassett, who was part of the Irish negotiating team during the drafting of the Good Friday Agreement, argued.

The United Kingdom and the European Union want to ensure that there is no hard border, that is, no extensive checks or physical infrastructure, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The so-called backstop solution has been proposed as a guarantee against hard border in case the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal covering all aspects of the bilateral relationship.

The European Union has proposed a solution under which Northern Ireland would remain part of the EU customs union, and, to a great extent, of the EU single market. The United Kingdom has been wary of this option as it would require checks on the goods coming from the rest of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland.

The former diplomat stressed that the border issue was a "real problem," but it was being used largely to "punish" the United Kingdom.

"It's not a made up problem. The border is potentially dangerous. But the way both Dublin and London have gone about it is not helping the situation at all, and it's certainly being used to punish Britain and keep them as much as possible within the orbit of the European Union," Bassett said.

The former ambassador added that Dublin appeared to be following the example of Brussels in attempting to use the border issue as a leverage against London.

"I believe there is an element in Brussels, that Dublin took their lead from, that looks to use the border issue to extract as good a deal as possible out of the United Kingdom. Essentially they were not going to make [negotiations] easy and this was a good opportunity to do that," Bassett said.

The former ambassador said that some people in London, just like Brussels, were eager to use the border issue as a pretext to "basically keep the United Kingdom in the European Union's orbit."

Bassett believes that the "unique" nature of the deal that brought an end to decades of conflict is being endangered.

"The whole [agreement] is based on cooperation and working together. It's probably a unique situation in the world where the United Kingdom essentially allows a neighboring government to have a say in the running of part of its territory, and that's based on mutual consent. And also if you build up greater cross-border activity you want to get both communities in Northern Ireland to agree to that, so by kind of ramming a rigid system down the throats of London you're endangering that," the former diplomat said.

Bassett went on to argue that Dublin should also respect the decision reached by UK voters at the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, stressing that an easy Brexit was in Irish interests.

"It [Good Friday] was put together as a cooperative arrangement between two countries basically saying they'd be friends and assist each other. OK, you could say that by going down the Brexit road the United Kingdom was not thinking of Ireland, which is probably true, but once that happened the Irish government should have accepted that was the democratic decision of the United Kingdom and made it as easy as possible to have a good Brexit that was in our interests," the former ambassador said.

Basset added that the Irish government appeared convinced that "no British government could deliver the type of backstop that they were after."

"Having worked in Belfast with both sides, I felt that the Irish government should be even-handed, so if we didn't want a border on the island of Ireland we shouldn't also want a border on the Irish sea," the former diplomat said.

Bassett added that Dublin and London should have negotiated directly with one another from the very beginning of the Brexit process, to be able to then present their requirements on the border issue to authorities in Brussels.

"I think the Irish government is going down a very foolish path in this area. We'd all survive a 'hard Brexit,' but we don't really need to. We all need to pull together. I think the Irish government believed for some time that Brexit wasn't going to happen and there would be another referendum. I think it's dawned on them now that the UK is going to leave," Bassett said.

If London decides that the Brexit deal is impossible, Ireland will take the brunt of that decision, along with the United Kingdom itself, the former diplomat argued.

Time is of the essence as the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union in March, but the final Brexit deal has not been reached yet.

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