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Ireland’s Sinn Fein asks Canada to halt post-Brexit trade talks with U.K.

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The Irish political party pushing to unify the island wants Ottawa to halt post-Brexit trade talks with Britain, arguing that London is undermining the agreement that brokered peace between Catholics and Protestants.

“It is the duty of friends to sometimes pull each other up, whenever they are behaving in a way which is not acceptable,” said Sinn Fein MP John Finucane.

The Belfast MP is visiting Toronto and Ottawa to ask Canadian leaders to nudge Britain to abide by rules that have given Northern Ireland preferential trade agreements with both mainland Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Sinn Fein is a political party that was once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, a Catholic militant group that was part of three decades of armed conflict with Britain over the status of Northern Ireland, which is a region of Britain.

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The conflict ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which set out rules for the U.K. and Ireland to maintain peace, including a largely invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the European Union.

After Britain left the EU, the two negotiated an agreement that allows for customs checks of goods transiting in the sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in order to avoid instating a hard border.

But this spring, Britain tabled legislation to curtail those rules, which the European Commission argues violates international law. The British government is also modifying human-rights legislation in ways that Amnesty International argues will violate the Good Friday Agreement, though London insists otherwise.

“We are dealing with a British government, through numerous examples, that seems to have very little respect for international law or indeed international agreements,” Finucane argued.

Washington has cited those concerns in tapping the brakes on trade talks with Britain, while London has resorted to talking with individual American states as it tries forming post-Brexit trade links.

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Meanwhile, Canada launched formal trade talks with Britain in March, but Finucane wants Ottawa to make those conditional on the U.K. respecting rules aimed at avoiding a reignition of sectarian conflict.

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“It (should be) not even allowing a trade deal negotiation to get off the ground, if there’s damage to the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

Trade Minister Mary Ng had no comment on that idea.

“Canada will always support maintaining the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement,” spokeswoman Alice Hansen wrote.

Finucane noted Canadian officials played a part in forming the Good Friday Agreement, such as former Supreme Court justice Peter Cory and Gen. John de Chastelain.

“Canada has invested too much; the international community has invested too much, to allow it to be undermined or indeed undone by the actions of the British government.”

Sinn Fein is also pushing for a citizens’ assembly on what a united Ireland would look like, arguing that census data, electoral trends and polls suggest growing support for unity.

In May, Northern Ireland voters elected Sinn Fein with the largest share of seats, the first time a Catholic party has outranked Protestant groupings in the region.

Finucane said that’s in part due to chaos from Brexit, which he argues has made it less appealing for the region to be part of the United Kingdom.

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