Britain to blame for eroding trust with Ireland, says former NI secretary

Given history between Ireland and UK, trust must be re-established, says Peter Hain

 Peter Hain  when he was the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary in 2005. File photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Peter Hain when he was the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary in 2005. File photograph: Paul Faith/PA

 

Britain is mostly to blame for eroding trust between London and Dublin over Brexit, former UK Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain said as he called for a revival of informal contacts that helped to advance the peace process.

Lord Hain, who was close to former UK premier Tony Blair in the drive to bed down the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, also said nationalists and republicans could do more to recognise loyalist concerns over the Brexit protocol.

“Trust between Dublin and London has been massively breached and, frankly, personally, I think over 90 per cent is due to the behaviour of London – and given the history of relations between the UK and Ireland I think it’s crucial that we try to re-establish that trust,” Mr Hain said.

“I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of informal contacts, and that seems to have ebbed away in recent years, both Brussels to London, where trust I think is the lowest I can remember in the last few decades.”

He was speaking to the Oireachtas EU committee on Wednesday when it met online with the UK House of Lords sub-committee on the protocol. The meeting came amid tension in Anglo-Irish relations over UK demands to unpick protocol requirements for regulatory checks on Irish Sea trade between Britain and the North.

“Frankly the dishonesty with which the prime minister Boris Johnson behaved on the Irish Sea question, because he denied a border that he had signed up… created a sense of suspicion in the unionist and loyalist community,” Mr Hain said.

Peter Hain with then-taoiseach, Bertie Ahern during a Six Nations Rubgy match in 2006. File photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP via Getty Images
Peter Hain with then-taoiseach, Bertie Ahern during a Six Nations Rubgy match in 2006. File photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP via Getty Images

‘Intricacies of Ireland’

But he also said Brussels had been “too rigid” on the protocol, arguing that senior Europeans were not “sufficiently understanding” of the situation in the North. He pinned most of the blame on Mr Johnson and Brexit negotiator Lord Frost but said “there are faults in Brussels”.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin dismissed the argument that Europeans didn’t understand. He said politicians and the EU commission had a “very deep knowledge of the intricacies of Ireland”, saying people had taken enormous trouble understand the nuances and difficulties.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said it was “pretty tiring” to see the UK government trying to justify unilateral action because a brief European move earlier this year to override the protocol, which was quickly reversed. “The currency there has been well and truly spent,” Mr Richmond said.

“It’s very hard to be the UK’s best friend in the EU if at the same time British government ministers are going out to trash the very agreement or indeed trash the EU itself.”

With unionist parties set against protocol arrangements and the DUP in turmoil, Mr Hain said the political instability in the North was very serious.

“It’s really important for nationalists and republicans, whatever side of the Irish Border they are on, to be very careful and the moment because unionism does feel extremely insecure, and loyalism especially.”