Does Belfast/Good Friday Agreement forbid cross-border barriers?

CLAIM: The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement does not forbid the provision of barrier controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

CONCLUSION: ACCURATE WITH CONSIDERATION. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement does not exclude governments’ border measures, but aims for ‘normal security arrangements’. The UK Withdrawal Agreement seeks to minimise physical border controls.

During a radio interview on 7 September (Nolan Show, BBC Radio Ulster, at 39:15), Jim Allister MLA claimed, “The Belfast Agreement had nothing to say about you couldn’t have barriers on the border in Northern Ireland, Ireland, nothing whatsoever.”

This statement was made in the context of a discussion on the news (Financial Times; paywall) about the UK Government preparing legislation on the UK internal market—outlined in a White Paper— that might contradict the UK Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, particularly in regards to the ‘Northern Ireland protocol’ (see esp. p. 293; p. 295; p. 296).

In the Belfast Agreement, the only specific reference to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland appears in a section on security. This includes the statement, “The British Government will make progress towards the objective of as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland, consistent with the level of threat … dealing with:

    • the reduction of the numbers and role of the Armed Forces deployed in Northern Ireland to levels compatible with a normal peaceful society;
    • the removal of security installations;
    • the removal of emergency powers in Northern Ireland; and
    • other measures appropriate to and compatible with a normal peaceful society.”

FactCheckNI previously published an article that explains the historical experience of the customs and security border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

Meanwhile, the paper “UK Withdrawal (‘Brexit’) and the Good Friday Agreement” (published by the AFCO Committee at the European Parliament) discusses the issue of cross-border movement of goods and people, with the objective of minimising the needs for physical border controls: “If the Irish border is not intended to be a block to the movement of people/goods, then the question becomes one of effective tracking of such movement in order to allow for the enforcement of border controls away from the border itself.”

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement does not exclude Northern Ireland or Ireland from establishing cross-border checkpoints and other security measures. However, an explicit objective of the UK Withdrawal Agreement is to minimise physical border controls.


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