Good Friday Agreement stipulates ‘rigorous impartiality’ by UK government in a reunification referendum mandated by peace deal
Keir Starmer has been accused of ‘recklessness beyond the extreme’ in his decision to announce – on the weekend before loyalists light huge bonfires and tensions escalate in Northern Ireland – that he will campaign ‘strongly’ against the reunification of Ireland if a referendum is triggered under the Belfast (or ‘Good Friday’) Agreement (GFA):
Starmer stuck to this position even when he was challenged by his interviewer about neutrality. And the BBC man pushed that point with good reason: the GFA obliges the UK government to maintain ‘rigorous impartiality’ in the event of such a referendum:
The likelihood of the feeble Starmer ever becoming PM is diaphanously thin, but if he ever were to occupy Downing Street, it would be illegal for him to campaign in any direction – and his statement even on any other day would be a slap in the face to republicans in Northern Ireland, who include many and probably most on the left and many Roman Catholics.
The Northern Irish-run @ToryFibs Twitter account accused Starmer of ‘recklessness beyond the extreme’ in choosing this weekend to make such a statement:
On Monday, right-wing ‘loyalists’ will set light to massive bonfires in celebration of sectarianism, built on a scale to be truly dangerous – and often decorated with photographs and effigies of republican figures, while many Catholics are advised to avoid travel and if possible to stay home completely:
And Starmer’s timing is even worse when many feel that demographic shifts in Northern Ireland have brought the prospect of a referendum closer than it has been at any time since the GFA was signed more than twenty years ago. The terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) state that the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must call a referendum,
if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
And polling in April suggested that, for the first time, more than half of the population supports reunification.
A day of new shame and new depths for Labour – and under Keir Starmer there seems to be no prospect of improvement.
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