An Irish political party that pushes to unify the island of Ireland wants Ottawa to suspend post-Brexit trade talks with Britain, arguing that London is undermining the deal that brokered peace between Catholics and Protestants.
“It is the duty of friends to shoot each other at times, whenever they behave in a way that is not acceptable,” said Sinn Fein MP John Finucane.
This week, the MP for Belfast, who sits in the UK House of Commons, traveled to Toronto and Ottawa to seek help from Canadian leaders.
He wants them to push Britain to stick to the rules that have historically allowed for seamless travel between Northern Ireland, mainland Britain 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 embroiled in three decades of armed conflict with the British over the status of Northern Ireland, which is a region of Britain.
The conflict largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which set out rules for the UK and Ireland to keep the peace, including an effectively invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is still part of the European Union.
Following Britain’s exit from the EU, the two countries negotiated an agreement which allows customs checks on goods transiting by sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
This move obviated the need for a hard border on the island, while annoying those who want to keep the area as a regular part of the UK.
But this spring, Britain tabled legislation aimed at restricting border rules, which the European Commission says violate international law.
The UK government is also changing human rights law in a way that Amnesty International says will breach the Good Friday Agreement, although London insists otherwise.
“We are dealing with a British government, through many examples, that seems to have very little regard for international law or even international agreements,” Finucane explained.
Washington has raised those concerns by stalling on trade talks with Britain, while London has resorted to talks with individual US states as it tries to forge post-Brexit trade ties.
Meanwhile, Canada launched formal trade talks with Britain in March to replace the tentative deal that followed Brexit.
But Finucane wants Ottawa to make these trade talks conditional on the UK’s compliance with rules aimed at avoiding a resurgence of sectarian conflict.
“He (should) not even allow a trade deal negotiation to start, if there is damage to the Good Friday deal,” he said.
Trade Minister Mary Ng did not comment on her request.
“Canada will always support maintaining the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement,” spokeswoman Alice Hansen wrote.
In a statement, the UK government said its priority was to protect the deal.
“Our goal has been and always will be to preserve stability in Northern Ireland,” wrote Ottawa High Commission spokesman Tom Walsh.
‘The UK’s preference has always been for a negotiated solution, but we also said we needed to resolve the situation in Northern Ireland quickly,’ he wrote, saying that was the aim of the legislation. British filed this spring.
Finucane noted that Canadian officials played a role in forming the Good Friday Agreement in the first place – including former Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory and General John de Chastelain.
“Canada has invested too much. The international community has invested too much to allow it to be undermined or even undone by the actions of the British government,” he said.
Sinn Fein is also pushing for a citizens’ assembly on what a united Ireland would look like, arguing that census data, election trends and polls suggest growing support for unity.
In May, voters gave Sinn Fein the largest share of seats in the Northern Ireland assembly, marking the first time that a Catholic party edged out Protestant groupings in the region.
Finucane said this was due, in part, to the chaos resulting from Brexit, which he said made it less attractive for the region to stay in the UK.