Brexit exposes GFA as a purely internal arrangement



Sean Bresnahan argues that the recent decision on Brexit by the Supreme Court in London leaves no room for doubt that the Good Friday Agreement amounts to nothing more than an exclusively internal solution.


Last month’s decision at the UK Supreme Court, that Brexit in no way defers to the devolved administration in the North, should come as no surprise. It reflects the cornerstone of the devolution set-up: sovereignty resides at Westminster. Those who insisted otherwise, that Stormont had somehow a veto, were chasing their shadow for the purposes of effect - playing to the gallery, intent on distraction. We don’t need a lawyer to know this.

For republicans, all of this reaffirms that the Good Friday ‘architecture’ is wholly internal, with Britain retaining power to withdraw its ‘concessions’ should it ever be required do so. Indeed we are seeing this play out as we speak. How can this be so in the face of the Good Friday Agreement? The Agreement notwithstanding, constitutional authority still resides within the UK Parliament: ‘Parliament giveth: Parliament taketh away.’

As many of us argued from the beginning and is now before all in plain sight, the Good Friday Agreement is essentially an internal settlement, upheld by British law alone. It in no way breaches the ‘constitutional integrity’ of the United Kingdom. It does not even contain ‘transitional’ elements that in time might effect that end - as the republican leadership were forced to concede during internal discussions in its wake.

That they were reduced to describing it as a ‘transition to a transition’ - with ‘transitory potential’ at best - made plain that its terms were in conflict with our fundamental position. That position was and remains that an internal settlement - even one with all-Ireland ‘add-ons’ - is a non-starter and an anathema. It is outside and steps away from republican core thinking. Essentially we are talking about an aberration.

Beneath the appeals to have trust in the project and that the leadership needed time - needed the same level of support and commitment afforded the armed campaign - the reality was obvious for those who chose to look: six inches in front of the face and five times in the first section alone. That reality is that the Good Friday Agreement in no way impacts the British sovereign claim. Indeed it codifies that claim, in a body of text which republicans agreed to be bound by in return for the ‘right to aspire’.

All of this was obvious from the process itself, as many protested ahead of the talks. The Multi-Party Talks were between parties internal to the North, who ‘negotiated’ an agreement within strict parameters set out in advance by the Major Government (with lateral support from Dublin). Within its Framework Document, unilaterally determined by Britain, lay the eventual ‘heads for agreement’. Everything subsequent is no more than semantics and entirely for the optics.

Further to that again, the outcome of a ‘successful’ negotiation and a political ‘settlement’ thereof required majority agreement within the room, majority agreement in the Occupied Six Counties and a majority in turn within the British Parliament. This removed all possibility that anything other than an internal settlement could ever result from the process.

We were already beaten before we began, the outcome predetermined. That outcome? Britain’s sovereign claim intact and her ‘right to rule’ conceded, all wrapped up in an internal arrangement as that we opposed from the outset - in essence the totality of all that the movement had stood against. It’s a cliche of old but it still rings true: ‘for what died the sons of Roisin.’

Last month’s decision on Brexit - denying a role to London’s ‘internal colonies’ on matters impacting their own well-being - is a timely reminder of the above and of where we stand now today. It invites us to reflect on what has become of our struggle. With the legitimacy of British constitutional law conceded, realising Irish self-determination requires no mean feat. That is where we are at.

Ireland’s best hope might very well prove that the triggering of Article 50 comes to tear apart the Union, leaving us ‘incidental victors’, of a sort, in the long fight to free our country. For sure we’ll take freedom by any means going - and rightly so. But let there be no mistake. Should this come to pass, the actions of those who stabilised the rule will have played no part in the achievement.

Indeed if they had had it their way in the first place, if Britain’s Supreme Court had backed their appeals, they would have succeeded in blocking that pathway. That in itself - and not for the first time - points to their direction of travel. Regardless their scheming, we can only await what the time ahead comes to bring. Interesting times in store for sure - of that there can be no doubt.

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