Brexit and the Belfast Agreement

The government says that the 1998 Belfast Agreement will not be weakened in any way by Brexit. But in its current form, the notorious backstop  will inflict damage on it, as Alistair Lexden pointed out in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on 7 February, in which he also recalled a valuable plan to improve Northern Ireland’s government in the absence of devolution.

SIR -Theresa May constantly insists that she is determined to protect the 1998 Belfast Agreement as the foundation of peace and  prosperity in Northern Ireland.

But my friends Lord Trimble (“Architect of Good Friday Agreement backs legal action to defend it against May’s plan”, report, February 5) and Lord Bew, the leading Irish historian, have shown that a backstop for an unlimited period  will undermine that Agreement with potentially disastrous consequences for both Ulster and the Irish Republic.

This is because the backstop will transfer responsibility for key issues, such as cross-border co-operation on agriculture, from the power-sharing institutions set up under Agreement to new EU bodies.  

At the same time Mrs May has abandoned the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, another product of the 1998 settlement, where discussions between Dublin and London ought to take place on all aspects of the relationships between the two countries. Things would never have come to this pass if the Stormont Assembly had remained in being. At the 1979 election, when devolution was also in abeyance, the Conservative Party put forward a plan for a halfway house so that democratic control over the  major public services could be restored, with legislative powers to follow later.

Next month will mark the fortieth anniversary of the murder of Airey Neave, the architect of the plan, to whom I was political adviser from 1977. Is it too much to hope that Mrs May could learn from his inspiring example?

Lord Lexden
London SW1