An Irish political party pushing for Irish reunification wants Ottawa to halt post-Brexit trade talks with Britain, arguing that London is undermining an agreement to mediate peace between Catholics and Protestants.
“It is the duty of friends to pull each other up sometimes, whenever they behave in an unacceptable way,” said member of Parliament Sinn Fein John Finucane.
This week, the Belfast MP, who sits in the UK House of Commons, went to Toronto and Ottawa to ask Canada’s leaders for help.
He wants them to urge Britain to follow rules that have historically allowed seamless travel between Northern Ireland, the British mainland and the Republic of Ireland.
Sinn Fein operates in both countries. The party was once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, a Catholic militant group that had been involved in three decades of armed conflict with the British over the status of Northern Ireland, a British region.
The conflict largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which set the rules for Great Britain and Ireland to maintain peace, including an effective invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Ireland, remains part of the European Union.
After the UK left the EU, the two countries negotiated an agreement to allow customs checks for goods in transit at sea between the UK and Northern Ireland.
The move avoided the need for a hardline island on the island, while at the same time annoying those who wanted to keep the area as a regular part of the UK.
But this spring, Britain enacted legislation to cut border rules, which the European Commission says violates international law.
The UK government is also amending human rights law in a way that Amnesty International says would violate the Good Friday Agreement, although London insists to the contrary.
“We are dealing with a British government, which seems to have little respect for international law or international agreements,” Finucane argues.
Washington has cited those concerns in downplaying trade talks with Britain, while London has had to engage in dialogue with individual US nations as they try to forge post-Brexit trade links.
Meanwhile, Canada kicked off formal trade talks with Britain in March to replace the interim deal following Brexit.
But Finucane wants Ottawa to make those trade talks conditional on the UK respecting the rules to avoid a recurrence of sectarian conflict.
“Should (should) not even allow a trade deal negotiation to begin, if there is damage to the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
Commerce Secretary Mary Ng had no comment on his request.
“Canada will always support maintaining the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement,” wrote spokeswoman Alice Hansen.
In a statement, the UK Government said its priority was to protect the deal.
Ottawa High Commission spokesman Tom Walsh wrote: “Our focus has been, is and will always be on maintaining stability in Northern Ireland.
“The UK’s priority has always been for a negotiated solution, but we have also said we need to resolve the situation in Northern Ireland soon,” he wrote, adding that this was the purpose of the legislation, he wrote. which you launched this spring.
Finucane noted that Canadian officials played a part in shaping the Good Friday Agreement from the beginning — including former Supreme Court justices Peter Cory and General John de Chastelain.
He said: “Canada has invested too much. The international community has invested too much to allow it to be undermined or actually ruined by the actions of the British government.”
Sinn Fein is also pushing for a citizens’ council to see what a unified Ireland would look like, arguing that census data, election trends and polls show growing support for with unity.
In May, voters gave Sinn Fein the largest number of seats in the Northern Ireland parliament, marking the first time a Catholic party has outstripped Protestant groups in the region.
Finucane said that was partly due to the chaos caused by Brexit, which he says has made the region less attractive as it remains part of the UK.