Barry Gardiner: I am 'deeply sorry' for suggesting Good Friday Agreement was out of date
Barry Gardiner has said he is "deeply sorry" for suggesting the Good Friday Agreement was now out of date.
The Shadow International Trade Secretary said his remarks, in a question and answer session at a thinktank in Brussels last month, had led to a "misunderstanding" about what he really meant.
A recording emerged of Mr Gardiner saying the peace deal, which was signed 20 years ago today, was a "shibboleth".
The word is derived from Hebrew meaning a way of speaking which identifies a particular group of people, but can also be used to suggest something is no longer relevant.
The shadow minister, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, also suggested that the Irish government was "playing up" the significance of the border issue in the Brexit negotiations for its own economic advantage.
He said: "I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday Agreement.
"And that is because it is hugely in the Republic of Ireland’s economic interest to make sure that there is no tariff and no external border there."
Former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith, who was sacked for backing a second EU referendum, said Mr Gardiner was "prepared to sacrifice the Good Friday agreement in order to deliver Brexit".
In a statement this morning, Mr Gardiner said: "The Good Friday Agreement is a vital and essential part of the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and has been central to the two decades of peace it has brought about.
"Labour is completely committed to the agreement and opposed to any return of a hard border between north and south. We are committed to negotiating a new customs union between the UK and Ireland as part of a final Brexit settlement, which would play a key role in ensuring there is no hard border.
"I am deeply sorry that my informal remarks in a meeting last month have led to misunderstanding on that point - in particular, that my use of the word "shibboleth" in its sense of "pass word" or "test of membership" gave the impression that I thought the Good Friday Agreement was in any way outdated or unimportant. I absolutely do not."
His statement made no reference to his earlier denials that he had even used the word "shibboleth". When it was reported by the Red Roar website last week, he tweeted that it was "nonsense on stilts".
A senior Labour source said: "Everyone is furious with Gardiner - including Jeremy Corbyn's office. It's the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and this is the last thing the party should be talking about."