Rediscover Good Friday accord spirit, Corbyn urges Northern Ireland

LONDON (Reuters) – British Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will call on Thursday for all parties to revive the spirit of the Good Friday peace agreement to deliver economic justice and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a Labour Party event at the Fairfield Ship Building Museum in Govan, Scotland, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In his first major visit to the British province since becoming Labour leader in 2015, he will also declare that Labour will not support any Brexit deal that includes a return to a hard border on the island, a party statement said.

Corbyn will argue that a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union, with a British say on future trade deals and arrangements, coupled with a new, strong relationship with the EU single market would prevent communities being divided.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britain will leave the EU customs union after Brexit although a source has said London is considering a backstop plan that would apply the bloc’s external tariffs beyond December 2020.

EU officials warn time is running out to seal a Brexit deal this year because there has been not enough progress in the negotiations in recent months, most importantly on how to avoid the hard border or physical controls on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

Corbyn was due to evoke the spirit of the 1998 agreement that largely ended 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland in which over 3,000 people died.

“Look back at the sacrifice and courage shown at all levels of society that paved the way for something that had once seemed impossible,” he will say, according to pre-released extracts of his speech.

“That was the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. We all need that spirit again … if we want to secure 20 more years of peace and greater prosperity for the many not the few.”

Part of the 1998 agreement was the establishment of a power-sharing devolved government at Stormont which collapsed in January 2017.

Corbyn, in his speech at Queen’s University, Belfast, will appeal for renewed efforts to revive it.

“We must step up to find a creative solution, in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement, that avoids a return to direct Westminster rule and lays the ground for further progress for all communities,” he was due to say.

Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Alistair Smout

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