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Under Strand Three of the 1998 Belfast ‘Good Friday’ Agreement, institutions were set up to promote the ‘harmonious and mutually beneficial development’ of the ‘totality of relationships’ between the peoples and governments of Ireland and the UK, including its devolved administrations and Crown Dependencies. According to the text of the 1998 Agreement this ‘east-west’ dimension was to have two elements with corresponding institutions: an intergovernmental one reflected in the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIC) and an interjurisdictional one reflected in the British-Irish Council (BIC). These Strand Three institutions were designed to provide fora for, respectively, intergovernmental cooperation on ‘non-devolved Northern Ireland matters’ in the case of the BIIC and information exchange and cooperation ‘on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the relevant Administrations’ in the case of the BIC.
Nowhere in the 1998 Agreement text is the concept of ‘east-west’ used to refer to relations between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Yet, in the wake of Brexit, and in the midst of controversy over the implications of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland, relations between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (GB–NI) have been newly framed as ‘east-west’. The creation of this new discursive face of ‘east-west’ relations marks an important, but little discussed, impact of Brexit on the political and constitutional landscape of the UK and Ireland. Against this backdrop, this article considers the impacts of Brexit, and the Protocol, on three faces of ‘east-west’ relations—the BIIC, the BIC and, newly, GB–NI—and discusses their implications for the future of Strand 3 institutions and the ‘totality of relationships’ they represent.