Labour MPs warned by party's Irish society of 'severe' impact on Northern Ireland if they back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

Business Insider 1 month ago
  • Exclusive: The Labour Party Irish Society warns Labour MPs not to support Boris Johnson's plan for Northern Ireland in a letter seen by Business Insider.
  • 19 Labour MPs last week sent a letter to the EU saying they are ready to back an agreement between Johnson and Brussels.
  • However, the letter says Johnson's proposals for Northern Ireland would have "incredibly severe" consequences for the province and its people.
  • Backing Johnson's deal would be a "failure in your responsibility as a Member of Parliament where the implications of any border are so incredibly severe," the group tells the MPs.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

LONDON — Labour Members of Parliament who plan to vote for a Brexit deal agreed by Boris Johnson risk "incredibly severe" consequences for Northern Ireland, the party's Irish Society has warned.

Last week 19 Labour Members of Parliament wrote to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, urging him and the European Union to reach a new agreement with Johnson.

"If a new deal can be brought back to the Commons in the coming weeks that avoids a no deal Brexit and ensures greater certainty during the UK's departure, we believe it serves Britain's national interest to approve it," they said in a statement

The pledge has raised hopes in Downing Street that Johnson may still be able to pass a Brexit deal thanks to the support of the Labour MPs, most of whom represent constituencies which voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

Those MPs who signed the letter include prominent parliamentarians in the party such as Stephen Kinnock, Gloria de Piero, and Caroline Flint.

Labour's Irish Society wrote to the group of MPs on Wednesday, urging them to reconsider their willingness to support Johnson's proposals, due to Johnson's plans for new customs checks on the Island of Ireland.

In the letter, seen by Business Insider, the group warns Labour MPs that supporting the proposals would be a "failure in your responsibility as a Member of Parliament where the implications of any border are so incredibly severe."

They warn the MPs that the proposals pose a direct threat to the "peace and prosperity" of Northern Ireland and are strongly opposed by a majority of people and groups in the province.

"All political parties in Northern Ireland except the DUP, community groups and a succession of PSNI leaders have warned about these proposals in the most serious of terms," the letter said.

It added: "In your letter to Mr Juncker, as a group of nineteen MPs you state a collective belief that no party or MP wishes to compromise the peace process in Northern Ireland.

"However, Northern Ireland knows better than anywhere else that the actions of politicians supersede the politics of good intentions. Your words offer neither confidence nor consolation."

Johnson has said the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless the EU agrees to scrap the backstop in its current form. The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, today said Brussels could not accept the UK proposals.

The Labour Party Irish Society's letter to Labour MPs:

Dear [Labour MP]

Yesterday, you were one of nineteen Labour MPs who co-signed a letter addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. We are writing to you as the Executive Committee of the Labour Party Irish Society, to express deep concern at the tone and content of that letter, and to ask for your response to these concerns.

First, the framing of the letter suggests it is primarily the responsibility of the European Commission and EU27 to 'engage' and 'reach an accommodation' with the British government. It is our belief that the EU Commission and the EU27 leaders have done so earnestly and consistently over the past three years, engaging with all parties and communities in Northern Ireland, something the current government has failed to do.

Second, we were alarmed by the sentence which read 'we do not stand in judgement on the merits of the UK proposals regarding the operations of customs, regulations and trade across the Northern Ireland border'. These are the very proposals which are preventing an agreement being reached and so not having a position seems impractical, if this is your aim.

Beyond that, it is also a failure in your responsibility as a Member of Parliament where the implications of any border are so incredibly severe. All political parties in Northern Ireland except the DUP, community groups and a succession of PSNI leaders have warned about these proposals in the most serious of terms. They should not be ignored, and we noted with disappointment many turns of phrase including the use of 'historic peace agreement' rather than referencing the 'Good Friday Agreement', as it is so universally known.

One of the most consistent themes in the arguments some of you have made for over a year has been a notion of a disconnect between Westminster and your constituencies, of elites versus the working classes in the areas you represent. Northern Ireland faces the greatest democratic deficit in the western world, and nobody speaks for them in Parliament. The disconnect could simply not be greater – and so it seems hypocritical to limit solidarity here.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that we are sure you are proceeding on a basis of good faith, and you are doing what you believe to be best for your constituents. However, we would in return ask that you take time to understand this issue from the perspective of the people of Northern Ireland, including those living in border communities, the thirty-thousand cross-border workers, and those in the police and security services.

Their fears are genuine, and whilst we all try to find a way through on Brexit, protecting the ethos and promise of the Good Friday Agreement has to be a red line. Northern Ireland is twenty years out of a thirty-year conflict which killed over three thousand people. Its peace and prosperity is fragile, and every Member of Parliament has a duty to act responsibly.

In your letter to Mr Juncker, as a group of nineteen MPs you state a collective belief that no party or MP wishes to compromise the peace process in Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland knows better than anywhere else that the actions of politicians supersede the politics of good intentions. Your words offer neither confidence nor consolation.

There are many MPs who seem willing to passively accept creating the conditions which make a return to the dark days of the past more likely. They stand by and shrug their shoulders, accepting it as the opportunity cost in realising an ideological agenda. Whilst times are difficult, we must all remember that peace can never be the price to pay.

We have hope that you will revisit the words you signed-off on yesterday, and we would like to offer that the Labour Party Irish Society meets you to discuss this in person, at your earliest convenience, so that we might build a common understanding. Please let us know if this is something which you might consider.

We look forward to your reply on this, and on the points raised above.

Best wishes,

Executive Committee of the Labour Party Irish Society


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