Northern Ireland

Partiality of British government command paper destabilises the Union, says QUB academic

Professor Katy Hayward of Queen's University Belfast
Professor Katy Hayward of Queen's University Belfast

The failure of two consecutive Tory governments to uphold their impartiality obligations under the Good Friday Agreement has destabilised the union, according to a prominent academic.

Katy Hayward, professor of political sociology at Queen’s University Belfast, also claims last week’s unilateral deal between the British Government and the DUP “runs roughshod over principles that have formed the bedrock for the peace process for over 30 years”.

Regarded as an academic authority on the implications of Brexit, Prof Hayward has written extensively on the Irish border question and the protocol.

Writing for the London-based Constitution Society, she argues that since 1998, the British government has “been under an extraordinary obligation” but that the past two Downing Street administrations have “failed to uphold it”.

“As a consequence, the present condition of the UK union is unstable, and its future is more uncertain,” she writes.

Secretary of Chris Heaton-Harris holds the Safeguarding the Union document at Hillsborough Castle
Secretary of Chris Heaton-Harris holds the Safeguarding the Union document (Niall Carson/Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Prof Hayward notes how the Good Friday Agreement obliges the British government to exercise power in the north with “rigorous impartiality”. She says there was never a breach of the principle in a substantive manner until the DUP’s 2017 confidence and supply deal with Theresa May’s government.

“From that point, the internal dynamics and priorities of the Conservative Party were shaped by those of a single Northern Ireland party,” she says.

What Prof Hayward terms “the habit of partiality” was evident over subsequent years as the British government “echoed and amplified” the DUP’s concerns around the post-Brexit trade arrangements, which culminated with the collapse of the institutions two years ago.

She argues that efforts to restore the devolved institutions should have involved the two governments rather than engagement exclusively with the DUP – “a party for whom 79% of the electorate did not give a first preference vote”.

“The ‘prize’ of functioning devolution was apparently judged to be worth the cost of any pretence at impartiality,” she writes.

The Queen’s lecturer claims the Safeguarding the Union command paper “runs roughshod over principles that have formed the bedrock for the peace process for over 30 years”.

If it fulfils its stated aim of to “copper-fasten Northern Ireland’s political and constitutional place in the union”, then it would usurp both the Good Friday Agreement and the 1993 Downing Street Declaration.

“Equally unwise is the decision to affirm – rather than assuage or challenge – zero-sum notions of Northern Ireland’s status, ie those which assume every close link with Ireland comes at a cost to its relationship with Britain,” she writes.

Prof Hayward argues that the command paper’s rhetoric is not only pro-union but a “dangerous misrepresentation”, including its claim that “the Irish government has become increasingly active in looking towards a potential united Ireland in recent years”.

She argues for the restoration of the principle of rigorous impartiality, suggesting that in the event of united Ireland, unionists and British citizens on the island would hope that the sovereign government would act “on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions”.

You can read the full article here: Rigorous impartiality: What has been breached in the quest for a DUP deal and why the British will regret it (