OTTAWA — Canada’s envoy to the United Kingdom says Ottawa will not make “a veiled threat” and suspend trade talks over concerns Britain may be breaching the agreement that stopped decades of conflict in Ireland.
Last week, the Irish political party pushing to unify the island asked Ottawa to halt negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal. Sinn Fein argued London is undermining the agreement that brokered peace between Catholics and Protestants.
But Ralph Goodale, Canada’s high commissioner in London, said the federal government has no plans to suspend talks.
“We think it’s more helpful and more practically useful to offer to help to find the right answer, rather than perhaps a veiled threat,” Goodale said in an interview last week.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely stopped three decades of armed conflict over the status of Northern Ireland, which is a region of Britain.
The deal maintained a largely invisible border between the territory and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the European Union. Experts argue the lack of a hard border has helped prevent conflict.
The invisible border was supposed to remain in place under an agreement Britain signed with the EU when it left the bloc in 2020, with customs checks instead taking place between mainland Britain and its region of Northern Ireland.
But this spring, the British government tabled legislation curtailing those rules. The European Commission argues Britain is violating international law, while the U.S. government has delayed trade talks, citing those concerns.
Goodale said Ottawa won’t follow the Americans and noted that Canadians like Gen. John de Chastelain played a “pivotal” role in reaching the 1998 agreement.
“We say to the United Kingdom on every occasion that we feel very strongly about this,” Goodale said.
NDP MP Charlie Angus hosted John Finucane, a Sinn Fein MP in the U.K. parliament, on his visit to Ottawa last week and said he supports the Belfast MP’s calls for Canada to hit pause on trade negotiations.
“I don’t think there’s any need to tiptoe around the complete failure of the British government,” Angus said. He argued Canada has more sway with the U.K. than the Americans do.
“Brexit has left England much weaker, and we’ve also seen just a real lack of maturity from their political leadership on this.”
Angus said he is working with the Catholic political party because his Irish relatives, both Catholic and Protestant, hated sectarianism.
“The stakes are high. I mean, we do not want to return to a hard border. And we do not want to return to the violence that traumatized a generation of people in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Meanwhile, Goodale said Canada stands ready to help Britain resolve its border issue, suggesting that Canada’s unmilitarized border with the United States could yield some ideas.
“We offer constructive assistance, wherever we could be of help in finding the solution to the tensions that have worked their way back into the relationship,” he said.