British and Irish relationship should be based on equal respect, says Starmer

UK Labour leader says Anglo-Irish relations dominated by Brexit but had rich history

British Labour party leader Keir Starmer has called for a relationship between Britain and Ireland based on equal respect that acknowledges both governments’ roles as co-guarantors of the Belfast Agreement rather than simply consultees.

He said the relationship had been dominated by Brexit in recent years but it had a rich and long history that was bigger than the current dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.

“The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement of course is absolutely crucial in that. I had the privilege of working in Northern Ireland for five years, implementing parts of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular the change from the RUC to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and everything that that entails in it,” he said.

“And I felt they were some of the most uplifting years in my working life because there was so much progress going on, so much change going on. You could feel it, you could see it, you could sense it when you were there. And that has given me a really strong sense of the importance of that partnership.


“The relationship requires respect, equal respect and understanding of what it means to be a country and to have that status, that friendship, that relationship and that respect.”

Mr Starmer was speaking at the Labour Party Irish Society’s St Patrick’s Day reception at the London Irish Centre in Camden, which is in his constituency of of Holborn and St Pancras. Other speakers included Trade Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady, Labour MP Conor McGinn, who chairs Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Irish in Britain and Adrian O’Neill, Ireland’s ambassador to Britain.

Mr O’Neill said that this year’s St Patrick’s Day events in London had been conceived as a celebratory return to personal contact after two years of the coronavirus pandemic but they had been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.

“To some extent, we have to kind of dial it down a little bit or at least recognise that while we are enjoying this opportunity to meet in person and celebrate all the things that we really cherish, our democracy, our human rights, our independence, sovereignty, all of those core values that they are absolutely now being trampled on in Ukraine,” he said.

“In Ireland, we’re working very, very closely with the UK, with the US with like-minded partners in the Security Council of the UN, within the EU, the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the International Criminal Court, using all the mechanisms at our disposal to isolate and increase pressure on Putin and his regime.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times