Questions remain over the future of Brexit negotiations and indeed US-UK trade deals with concern over the UK honouring the Good Friday Agreement.

But what is the agreement and why is it so vital?

The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, is a 1998 peace accord, which provides the template for power-sharing at Stormont and commits the UK and Irish governments to demonstrate “rigorous impartiality” when it comes to the differing political traditions in Northern Ireland.

The accord was signed after almost 2 years of talks and decades of conflict and tension in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  It aimed to restore peace by creating a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as well as a number between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The deal was approved by voters across all of Ireland in two referendums held on 22 May 1998

The agreement came into place on 2 December 1999, with the DUP being the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.

The former Ulster Unionist leader and ex-SDLP leader John Hume were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in forging the Good Friday deal.

Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement 

Post-Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would become the only land border between the UK and the European Union. As a result of this, there is concern that the UK will be unable to uphold the Northern Ireland Protocol, which ensures the free flow of goods across the border between the two nations as a result of different tariffs between the EU and UK. 

In the agreement, there is no explicit commitment to never harden the border, and there is nothing about customs posts or regulatory controls. However, former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the UK and Ireland must honour the Good Friday Agreement and honour their commitment not to have a hard border.

READ MORE: UK ‘has prime responsibility for protecting Good Friday Agreement’


The Northern Ireland Protocol

The Northern Ireland Protocol ensures the free flow of goods across the border between the two nations as a result of different tariffs between the EU and the UK. Under the protocol, Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory and can benefit from any trade deal struck by the British government. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs the Government is “fully committed” to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.

But he added the UK is taking “limited and reasonable steps to create a safety net” to allow it to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland and keep in line with the protocol should outstanding issues not be resolved in talks with the EU.

He said: “The UK internal market legislation that we will bring forward this week delivers on our commitment to legislate for unfettered access, something Northern Ireland businesses have consistently asked us to do and to ensure that we deliver certainty.

“This will give the certainty that the people and businesses, the economy of Northern Ireland, has been asking for and it supports the delivery of the protocol in all circumstances in line with the approach we set out in our command paper in May.

“The safety net we will implement, and we will outline this week, will deliver on the commitments made also in (our) general election manifesto.


“Specifically we will implement the provision in the protocol that Northern Ireland is fully part of the UK customs territory by ensuring that goods moving within the UK will never even inadvertently have to pay EU tariffs.

“We will ensure that businesses based in Northern Ireland have true unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom without paperwork and we will ensure that there is no confusion about the fact that while Northern Ireland will remain subject to the EU state aid regime for the duration of the protocol, Great Britain will not be subject to EU rules in this area.”

US trade deal impacted?

The damaging of the Good Friday Agreement has become a deal-breaker for UK-US trade deals. The US presidential election frontrunner has warned that the 1998 Good Friday peace deal cannot become a “casualty” of Brexit. The Democratic Party nominee for the White House said a future trade deal between the US and UK could only happen if the peace agreement was respected.

Mr Biden tweeted: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.

READ MORE: Joe Biden warns Good Friday Agreement must not be ‘casualty’ of Brexit

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has warned Congress would never pass a free trade agreement with the UK if legislation to override the Brexit divorce settlement was to “imperil” the peace process.