Northern Ireland

Chris Heaton-Harris warned over 'meddling' with GFA principles to appease unionists

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THE BRITISH government has been warned against making unilateral changes to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement in order to "to buy support from the DUP for the Windsor Framework".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that while the Northern Ireland Act had been amended in the 25 years since the accord, he cautioned against altering the principles of the agreement – "particularly the principle of consent".

In The Irish News today, writing on the same theme, columnist Brian Feeney warns Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris that he is "treading on perilous ground" with "his intention to meddle with the Good Friday Agreement".

In the aftermath of last week's Windsor Framework, Mr Heaton-Harris said he plans to "provide constitutional and democratic guarantees for the people of Northern Ireland".

Detail on the planned measures is scant, with the Northern Ireland Office echoing the secretary of state's words and saying the British government planned to "underpin arrangements in the Windsor Framework through amendments to the Northern Ireland Act 1998".

Queen's University human rights expert Professor Colin Harvey described the 1998 agreement as a "constitutional compromise" that had been "crafted with great care – every word, comma, full stop".

"Any suggestion that the British government now plans to open this up unilaterally, in a misguided effort to reassure political unionism, is troubling," he told The Irish News.

"The last thing this place needs right now is a distracting renegotiation of the agreed constitutional basics on the right of self-determination – the British government would be well advised to leave this dimension of the agreement alone."

Mr Eastwood said he had made it clear to Mr Heaton-Harris that substantive changes to the principles of the agreement would be unacceptable.

"The Northern Ireland Act has obviously been amended since 1998, there is no one arguing that the legislation is a monolith that can never be revisited but there is a very real concern that the British government is preparing to unilaterally open up the fundamental principles of the agreement as a way to buy support from the DUP for the Windsor Framework, particularly the principle of consent," he said

"They should not go there and they should not touch it."

Meanwhile, unionist commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards has declared her support for the EU-UK deal announced last week.

Writing in the News Letter, the London-based Brexiteer said she agreed with the assessment of fellow eurosceptic Graham Gudgin, a one-time economics adviser to David Trimble, who signalled his reluctant approval of the deal by saying "the best bet may be to accept what is on offer".

After quoting two anonymous "friends" who likewise supported the Windsor Framework, Ms Dudley Edwards said: "I agree. And if post-Boris the world again trusts our word, the huge possibilities for the UK will include scientific research and financial services, trade agreements and business investment."