Kate Hoey: The Belfast Agreement, with its fatal deception, is finished

An article by the former MP for Vauxhall, Baroness (Kate) Hoey:

By Baroness Hoey
Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 2:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 2:42 am

In 1998 I was a Labour MP, and I travelled to Northern Ireland to campaign along with David Trimble for the Belfast Agreement.

Despite my many misgivings about the agreement, I wanted (and still want) to see peace and stability in my home country.

I believed – based on the promises made to the pro-Union community and MPs – that central to the agreement was the principle of consent.

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Baroness (Kate) Hoey, the former Labour MP, speaks to the media outside the High Court in Belfast, after the dismissal of her appeal against a ruling that NI Protocol is lawful. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Put simply; Northern Ireland’s constitutional status within the Union could not be altered without the consent of a majority of its citizens. It was on this basis, and this basis alone, I – and many others – were prepared to campaign for the agreement.

I should point out that the principle of consent related to Northern Ireland’s relationship vis-à-vis the Union, it had nothing to do with the UK’s external relationships.

As such the UK leaving the EU plainly wasn’t within its terms – but NI being subjugated within the Union plainly should have been.

However, the Court of Appeal judgment yesterday has confirmed that we were all deceived. The core basis for unionist support for the agreement – the principle of consent – does not in fact protect the substance of Northern Ireland’s place within the Union at all, but rather only directs itself to the final formal handover of sovereignty. When it comes to NI’s place within the Union, you can change everything but the last thing. The last thing being simply the final formal handing over of sovereignty.

If you had told me, or I suspect Lord Trimble, that the principle of consent was in fact merely symbolic and thus law-making and judicial powers over Northern Ireland could be handed to a foreign power, and the very fundamental basis of the Union itself – the Acts of Union – could be, in the lady chief justice’s own words “subjugated”, then there is no way that I would have ever supported the Belfast Agreement in the first place.

It is trite to point out that if law-making and judicial power could be handed to Brussels without offending the principle of consent, then so long as Northern Ireland remained technically within UK territory, law-making powers could equally be devolved to Dublin.

No self-respecting unionist can ever again operate the institutions of the Belfast Agreement. And nor can any of us pretend we are blind to the fatal deception at its heart.

It is finished.

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