In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) introduced this resolution to call for strict adherence to the Good Friday Agreement during Brexit negotiations and ensure that any trade deal post-Brexit between the U.S. and the U.K. will require the U.K. to uphold the Good Friday Agreement. When he introduced this resolution, Rep. Suozzi said:
“Ireland is one of the oldest and closest friends on the United States…We need to ensure that Brexit and other political challenges don’t threaten the peace process by reintroducing a hard border. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over any trade agreements between the United States and United Kingdom, I will fight to make a soft border and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement requirements for any negotiation.”
After this bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Suozzi said:
“During these difficult times of often partisan and divided government in the United States, it is gratifying to see such overwhelming bipartisan support to ensure that Brexit and other political challenges don’t threaten the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process by reintroducing a hard border. Ireland is one of the oldest and closest friends of the United States, and the Irish people have been a crucial part of the fabric of our nation for well over a century.”
Lead Republican cosponsor Rep. Peter King (R-NY) adds, “Support for the Good Friday Agreement is crucial at this critical time. The United States must affirm that the final Brexit deal retains language preventing the return of a hard border.”
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who traveled to Belfast during the Troubles in 1989, expressed support for this resolution in remarks at its committee markup:
“[This resolutiotion] reaffirms Congress’s support for the historic peace that the Good Friday Agreement brought to Ireland. This is an issue particularly close to my heart. I remember my first trip as a member of Congress in 1989, traveling to Ireland, traveling to Belfast during the dark days of the Troubles. The Good Friday Agreement, and the fulfillment of every obligation under that agreement, is the only way to ensure that those times of violence and division never return. That’s why I’m so alarmed by the current situation with Brexit, which could reintroduce a hard border between the North and the Republic – a dangerous prospect not only for the peace process, but for the economic stability of the island, and for the rights of the border communities. With this resolution, Congress sends a clear signal to the U.K. and the EU that any Brexit deal must protect the Good Friday Agreement and all its components.”
Former Senator George Mitchell, who served as United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland from 1995 to 2001 and played a vital role in the drafting and signing of the Good Friday Agreement, supports this resolution:
“I commend Congressmen Suozzi and King for their leadership on [this resolution]. The EU and the UK government have publicly and repeatedly promised that there will not be a return to a hard border. That promise must be kept. [This resolution] is a bipartisan effort to reaffirm support for the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements to ensure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. That is a worthy objective which deserves widespread support.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, expressed his support for protecting the Good Friday Amendment and avoiding a return to a hard border after Brexit in November 2019. Noting that he’s made it clear in that past that he doesn’t support “breaking down” what’s currently in place, Biden said, “We don't want a guarded border again. We don't want to do it.”
Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, George Hamilton, has repeatedly said that a hard border would be damaging for the wider peace process. He argues that any new border infrastructure would be seen as “fair game” for attack by dissident Irish Republicans. In a 2018 interview, he also observed:
“If you put up significant physical infrastructure at a border, which is the subject of contention politically, you are re-emphasising the context and the causes of the conflict. So, that creates tensions and challenges and questions around people's identity, which in some ways the Good Friday Agreement helped to deal with.”
Former Bookings expert Jacques Mistral, who served as an economic advisor to French Prime Minister Michel Rocard in 1998 when Rocard negotiated an agreement restoring civil peace in New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific, suggested a Northern Irish referendum allowing Northern Irish citizens to vote on whether or not to secede from the U.K. and become part of a United Ireland, become part of the EU, or secede from the U.K. as a last-ditch attempt to get rid of the so-called “Irish backstop” and help make Brexit more orderly:
“The prospect of enforcing an Irish land border would disorganize the Northern Irish economy; it would also impose severe political costs on the EU. For these reasons, a Northern Irish referendum should be proposed, discussed, and organized as soon as possible. This could be the last chance to get rid of the backstop, as Prime Minister Johnson so ardently desires, while giving London a sense of an orderly Brexit.”
The Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and some Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs say the issue of a hard border need not arise as they believe it can be overcome by administrative and technical measures. The DUP also argues that the imposition of the backstop is the real threat to the spirit of the Good Friday Amendment.
Thus far, Democrats have expressed the strongest support for the Good Friday Amendment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) have all been vocal supporters of the GFA.
This resolution unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with the support of 46 bipartisan cosponsors, including 42 Democrats and four Republicans.
Of Note: The Good Friday Agreement — also known as the Belfast Agreement — was reached on Good Friday, April 10, 1998. It was a peace agreement between the British and Irish governments, as well as most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how Northern Ireland should be governed. The GFA’s aim was to establish a new, devolved government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists would share power.
This agreement helped bring an end to a period of violence in the region called the Troubles: a period in which two groups — Nationalists (some of whom were also called Republicans because they wanted Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland) and Unionists (some of whom were called Loyalists due to their loyalty to the British crown) — fought over the future of Irish statehood. The Troubles were rooted in the early 1920s, when Northern Ireland became part of the U.K. while the Republic of Ireland became a separate country after splitting off from British rule.
From the 1970s to 1990s, there was heavy fighting between armed groups on both sides of the conflict, and many people died in the violence. To deal with the conflict, British troops were sent to the area — but they came into conflict with Republican armed groups, of which the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was the largest group. Both the IRA and Loyalists (including the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)) committed acts of violence.
In the 1990s, the IRA announced that it would stop bombings and shootings, which gave the Unionists and Nationalists the opportunity to try to reach a peace agreement. In 1998 — after nearly two years of talks and 30 years of conflict — the Good Friday Agreement was signed, forming a new government with power shared between Unionists and Nationalists.
Today, while the withdrawal agreement agreed upon between the EU and Britain in November 2019 looks promising for Northern Ireland, this resolution notes the divisions in British politics as Britain’s general election on December 12th approaches. Given the current climate, this resolution states, “In this time of great uncertainty we believe that it is very important for the United States to reaffirm its support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Oleksandr Filon)