Eastwood asks if British are abandoning impartiality and undermining GFA with unionist bi-lateral deal

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Colum Eastwood has asked if the British Government’s bi-lateral unionist ‘Safeguarding the Union’ deal with the DUP means it is abandoning a position of ‘rigorous impartiality’ and undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. Eastwood made the comments on Thursday as the Secretary of State laid statutory instruments aimed at enshrining commitments of the deal into law.

The deal includes legislation ‘guaranteeing’ the North’s status in the UK and replacing the ‘green lane’ for goods in the Windsor Framework with a so-called ‘UK internal market system’.

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The Foyle MP alluded to the policy paper’s unionist rhetoric. He asked if Mr. Heaton-Harris was moving away from a strategic position on Ireland once outlined by an influential predecessor.

Peter Brooke (on left) and Chris Heaton-Harris.Peter Brooke (on left) and Chris Heaton-Harris.
Peter Brooke (on left) and Chris Heaton-Harris.

Peter Brooke once said that Britain had no selfish or strategic interest in NI. That was later repeated in the Downing Street Declaration.

"Reading the Command Paper it would seem to me that this government has moved from that position and I think it undermines the Good Friday Agreement.

"It seems like they have moved away from the principle of rigorous impartiality.

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"Does the Secretary of State agree with Peter Brooke's assertion and the Downing Street Declaration or is he moving to a different place?” asked the SDLP leader.

East Derry DUP Gregory Campbell remarked that ‘Peter Brooke was wrong,’ before Mr. Heaton-Harris replied: “I disagree with what the Honourable Gentleman said at the very end of his intervention and I completely agree with what Peter Brooke said at the time and our commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in all of its different ways and all of its facets.”

Mr. Eastwood, however, persisted with his criticism of what he described as the one-sided nature of the bi-lateral Tory/DUP deal.

"Listening to the Secretary of State and reading the Command Paper you would maybe think there was only the DUP in Northern Ireland - there were no other people with any other constitutional preferences.

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"Of course, there are many people in the North of Ireland who want to see a new Ireland as soon as possible so despite what may be in the Command Paper and what he has said and others have said, does he agree that the GFA is sacrosanct and it is absolutely clear that if people vote for a constitutional change then that's what happens?

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"It is not up to the British Government or anybody else, it is up to the people of Ireland north and south.”

Mr. Campbell again intervened, stating: “We've moved on.”

But Mr. Heaton-Harris insisted: “Yes, nothing that we are doing here changes that fundamental principle. So he is absolutely right to make that point and I hope I've clarified it for him properly.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, in response to the point made by Mr. Eastwood, said: “The difficulty was that the Protocol, in the eyes of unionists, undermined the principle of consent, which is at the heart of the GFA.

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"Does he agree with me that these new measures and the legislation resets the balance so that it is the principle of consent and the will of the people of Northern Ireland alone that will determine the future of our country as part of the United Kingdom?”

Mr. Heaton-Harris said: “Yes and I think that both...are making exactly the same point and rightly so.”