By Jamie Bryson
On 10 December 2020 the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis quietly laid a piece of legislation in the form of a Statutory instrument which unilaterally amended the Belfast Agreement. The treacherous amendment- without any unionist consent- inserted Schedule 6A into the Northern Ireland Act which at paragraph 18 (5) disapplied Section 42 of the Act for the vote on the Protocol.
Section 42 was inserted to give effect to Strand 1 (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement which made clear that as a key safeguard- for both communities- key votes would require cross community consent. This was a key strand for the Belfast Agreement, demanded by nationalists who were in a minority within the Assembly.
For over four years during the Brexit negotiations, we were lectured day and daily by pan nationalism. The enlightened liberal elite, academia, and media establishment presented the Belfast Agreement as sacrosanct which almost amounted to a holy writ. We were told that ‘peace’ depended upon the agreement being protected “in all its parts”.
We were told that peace would be at risk if nationalism did not get their own way; if there was so much as a camera on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In other words; the threat of violence was deployed to gain political leverage.
However, as soon as pan nationalism (SF/SDLP/Alliance) had a majority to impose an economic United Ireland, these defenders of the agreement were more than happy- indeed championed- the destruction of cross community consent when it came to the imposition of the Protocol.
This illuminates the reality; protecting the Belfast Agreement really means protecting nationalism’s interests. There is no issue with breaching the safeguards in the Belfast Agreement so long as it is to the detriment of unionists.
Imagine, for just one moment, that the Belfast Agreement was amended to the detriment of nationalism without the consent of a single nationalist elected representative; entirely against their interests. Perhaps setting a criteria for a border poll that requires a 75% majority. The great and the good would be up in arms; there would chaos and wailing in the street.
Despite this incredible development, which was revealed by this writer on Sunday 24 January after the Statutory Instrument was spotted, the leader of the DUP has not said a single world about this breach of the Belfast Agreement.
This flagrant breach of the agreement raises a salient question; given the Belfast Agreement safeguards only apply to nationalists, why would any self respecting unionist continue to operate and/or support the institutions flowing from the Belfast Agreement?