Veteran Northern Irish politician David Trimble is backing a court challenge to the British Government over the Withdrawal Agreement which he says could threaten the Good Friday Agreement.
Lord Trimble was leader of the Ulster Unionist Party when the Good Friday Agreement, also called the Belfast Agreement, was signed 21 years ago and announced Thursday he planned to back the legal challenge over the EU exit agreement which Prime Minister Theresa May, Brussels, and Dublin insist is key for preserving peace on the island.
Crowdfunding has already begun in support of the legal case, which is based on the premise the Withdrawal Agreement, with its Irish backstop that could lock Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with the EU if a deal on a future UK-EU relationship is not struck by December 2020, “encroaches” on the Belfast Agreement.
Lord Trimble, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the agreement, told The Telegraph on Monday that proceedings would begin this week or next, saying “The Government has forgotten that there are two agreements – and both are comparable to treaties.
“And you look at the law of treaties and there is a very clear principle there that if a treaty has been made by certain parties, and another encroaches on it, then the encroachment is unlawful. The first treaty takes precedence.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday morning, Lord Trimble warned that the “top-down” management of the Irish backstop by the EU “turns the Belfast Agreement on its head and does serious damage to it.”
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“The bit of the agreement you have to handle with care is cross border arrangements. We’ve managed to do that successfully.
“Well, the EU has come in, and in the exit agreement they have negotiated, they, in the process of that, stripped out a significant number of competencies out of the devolved administration and out of the Belfast Agreement and put in place a number of top-down structures and a UK-EU body which is going to supervise.”
The Unionist politician said that while he may understand EU concerns that Northern Ireland may become a “backdoor” for goods that do not meet the bloc’s standards, Brussels “doesn’t have a good case for… this raid on the Belfast Agreement provision and to hold out for something that is going to do serious damage to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK which is always going to be a huge problem.”
Mrs May is travelling to Northern Ireland on Tuesday and is expected to make a speech on the Withdrawal Agreement which she hopes will assuage fears over the backstop and on Wednesday will meet with the leaders of Northern Irish parties.
The prime minister is expected to say, “We will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland and that secures a majority in the Westminster Parliament, which is the best way to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.”
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Arlene Foster, leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which is in a confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservative Party, called the Irish backstop “toxic,” but said she would back the prime minister’s deal if it were removed.
“We will be reiterating our opposition to the current backstop and the fact that parliament has now backed that position means she has a clear mandate to go back to Brussels,” Ms Foster told BBC radio on Tuesday.
“Parliament’s mandate is to replace the backstop, the current backstop … is toxic to those of us living in Northern Ireland. If the backstop is dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement … we will support the prime minister. I don’t want to see a no-deal scenario.”