Last week, the Irish political party pushing to unify the island called on Ottawa to halt negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal. Sinn Fein argued London was undermining the deal that brokered peace between Catholics and Protestants.
But Ralph Goodale, Canada’s high commissioner in London, said the federal government had no intention of suspending the talks.
“We think it’s more helpful and practical to offer help in finding the right answer, rather than perhaps a veiled threat,” Goodale said in an interview last week.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely ended three decades of armed conflict over the status of Northern Ireland, which is a region of Great Britain.
The deal maintained a largely invisible border between the territory and the Republic of Ireland, which is still part of the European Union. Experts say the absence of a hard border has helped prevent conflict.
The Invisible Border was meant to remain in place under an agreement Britain signed with the EU when it left the bloc in 2020, with customs checks instead taking place between mainland Britain and its region of Northern Ireland.
But this spring, the UK government tabled legislation restricting those rules. The European Commission says Britain is violating international law, while the US government has delayed trade talks, citing such concerns.
Goodale says Ottawa won’t follow the Americans and noted that Canadians like General John de Chastelain played a “pivotal” role in the conclusion of the 1998 agreement.
“We tell the UK at every opportunity that we’re very committed to this,” Goodale said.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus hosted John Finucane, a Sinn Fein MP in the British Parliament, when he visited Ottawa last week and said he supported the Belfast MP’s calls for Canada take a break from business negotiations.
“I don’t think there’s any need to tiptoe around the complete failure of the British government,” Angus said. He argued Canada has more sway over the UK than the Americans.
“Brexit has left England much weaker, and we’ve also seen a real lack of maturity from their political leadership on this.”
Angus said he worked with the Catholic political party because his Irish parents, both Catholic and Protestant, hated bigotry.
“The stakes are high. I mean, we don’t want to go back to a hard border. And we don’t want to go back to the violence that traumatized a generation of people in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Meanwhile, Goodale said Canada stands ready to help Britain solve its border problem, suggesting that Canada’s unmilitarized border with the United States might give some ideas.
“We offer constructive assistance, wherever we can be useful in finding the solution to the tensions that have reappeared in the relationship,” he said.
By Dylan Robertson