Hardline Brexiteers were accused of “jeopardising” peace in Northern Ireland after they made dramatic claims the Good Friday Agreement was “not sustainable”.
Labour MP Kate Hoey told HuffPost UK “there is a need for a cold, rational look” at the historic Belfast accord after talks between Sinn Fein and the DUP to restore power-sharing at Stormont collapsed last week.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain called Hoey’s intervention a “reckless slur”, claiming she and other Eurosceptics were using the political deadlock to set the political agenda on leaving the Customs Union - a move which many fear could lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Leave-backing Hoey said: “I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement.
“Even if a settlement had been agreed a few days ago there is nothing to stop Sinn Fein or the DUP finding something else to walk out about in a few months. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term.
“The Belfast agreement has been changed slightly over the years with the St Andrew’s agreement. We need to face reality - Sinn Fein don’t particularly want a successful Northern Ireland. They want a united Ireland.”
No 10 has been forced to underline the UK Government’s commitment to power-sharing in Northern Ireland after Tory hardline Brexit backers, including former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and MEP Daniel Hannan, had also claimed the GFA was defunct.
Hoey and fellow Eurosceptics would “sacrifice almost anything on the altar of a hard Brexit,” said Hain, who supports the pro-Single Market campaign Open Britain.
He said: “The reckless slurs of Brextremists like Daniel Hannan, Owen Paterson and Kate Hoey against the Good Friday Agreement show they are willing to sacrifice almost anything on the altar of a hard Brexit.
“Rather than engage with the inherent contradictions in their position of maintaining an open border in Ireland whilst also leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, fanatics like Hannan, Paterson and Hoey instead say we should tear up the agreement underpinning peace in Northern Ireland, just so they can have their way on Brexit.
“During the referendum, the Leave campaign dismissed all claims that the Good Friday Agreement could be undermined by Brexit as ‘scaremongering’. Now some of them are publicly calling for it to be scrapped. No-one voted in the referendum to jeopardise the Northern Irish peace process. If that’s the consequence of Brexit, people are entitled to ask whether Brexit is the right path for the country.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Hannan, said the stalling talks were proof the GFA had “failed”.
He said: “Northern Ireland has had no government for 13 months. Direct rule seems inevitable – and that is no bad thing.
“The Belfast Agreement is often spoken about in quasi-religious terms – literally, for it is more widely known as the GFA. But its flaws have become clearer over time.”
He added the deal “represented a bribe to two sets of hardliners” before saying power-sharing was little more than a “permanent grand coalition” which he objected to “on democratic grounds”.
“It’s unhealthy to have the same people in office all the time,” he said.
Paterson, meanwhile, was branded “beyond irresponsible” by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer for tweeting an opinion piece which claimed the Belfast accord had “outlived its use”.
The two Tories were slated by a string of commentators on Twitter.
1. Corbyn will side with any cause, however monstrous, provided it is anti-West— Daniel Hannan (@DanielJHannan) February 18, 2018
2. The Good Friday Agreement has failed
3. Don't fall for the romantic myth of Jacobitism
My @Telegraph column.https://t.co/oGG4OiYadZ
‘Th Good Friday Agreement has failed’ - the full front attack on NI peace process by Brexiters is incredibly worrying, and passing almost unnoticed in mainstream British discourse https://t.co/Q0kAHiDhhG— Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) February 19, 2018
The Good Friday Agreement has not failed Daniel. It’s not working smoothly but it has not failed. How do I know this? Becuase my kids can go to school without being assaulted. That’s how. Please consider the consequences attached to your words before writing them, eh?— Neil Briscoe (@neilmbriscoe) February 19, 2018
But this piece from Hannan is very clearly not about that. He's spotted that the Good Friday Agreement is a major obstacle to him getting the hard Brexit he wants and is trying to change public opinion against the GFA for misleading reasons— Siobhán Fenton (@SiobhanFenton) February 19, 2018
"The Good Friday Agreement has failed" - you heard it here first. It doesn't fit Brexit for there to be no hard border so Hannan is claiming the whole thing has already failed. I have no words to express my anger at this. https://t.co/q9PAcai7dO— Guy Clapperton (@GuyClapperton) February 19, 2018
Having reported from Northern Ireland both during the troubles and since, I believe emphatically that the Good Friday Agreement has NOT failed and is arguably one of the very few real achievements any of our politicians have managed in the last quarter century.— Ben Ando (@BenAndo) February 19, 2018
Labour MP Alex Sobel hit out at the Brexit proponents, too.
He said: “I went to Belfast on the day that the Good Friday Agreement was signed as part of a student delegation. I witnessed first-hand the transformative effect of the agreement on the politics of Northern Ireland.
“To blithely disregard and abandon the Good Friday Agreement is nothing short of a disgrace and highlights the Government’s disregard for the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland.”
It is thought Sinn Fein and the DUP were unable to agree on the parameters of an Irish Language Act, among other issues.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said after negotiations collapsed that there was “no prospect” of a deal and called for direct rule from Westminster, something which many fear could aggravate tensions in the region.
Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein’s President, was due to meet Irish PM Leo Varadkar on Monday. Varadkar, whose government is a guarantor of the GFA, has repeatedly stressed the need to protect the Belfast accord.
The Good Friday Agreement - brokered by Tony Blair’s Government - brought an end to 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. It was signed in 1998 and supported by most Northern Ireland parties, the British Government and the Irish Government. Ian Paisley’s DUP, however, opposed it.