DURING the campaign to decide whether the UK should remain in the EU, the question of Ireland rarely received prominence. When issues around the border came up, Boris Johnson would invent non-existent technology as the answer, and the English media would go back to salivating over man of the people, Nigel Farage.
In order to avoid the hard border that could well have seen violence return to the province, Northern Ireland has, since Brexit, been treated as part of the EU. This has meant that traders operating in Northern Ireland have to comply with single market rules, creating obstacles to the free flow of goods between the region and the rest of the UK. So, as well remaining in the UK, Northern Ireland is de facto part of the European Union and subject to laws over which they have no say whatsoever. This is a position which the DUP, with their close links (or so they thought) to the Conservative Party, are not prepared to tolerate.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson has said, “Essentially if a deal is agreed which still keeps us within the EU Single Market, as ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly we would be required by law to implement that deal. And we’re not going to do that because we believe that such an arrangement is designed to take us out of the United Kingdom and indeed would take us out of the United Kingdom, because increasingly we would have to agree EU laws which diverge from UK laws and in doing so would separate our own country from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
An attempt to do a deal to maintain the Protocol now looks unlikely as Rishi Sunak is facing a backbench rebellion led by Eurosceptics such as Sir Bernard Jenkin, who has said that any deal which did not lead to a return to power-sharing at the Stormont Assembly by the DUP – which walked out in protest at the Protocol early last year – would be “completely disastrous”. Sunak is also under pressure from Johnson and his allies to keep the Protocol.
Despite the fact that Sinn Fein are now the largest party in Northern Ireland, the British government has repeatedly supported the DUP and treat the DUP’s demands as if they represent popular opinion, even though the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. And let us not forget that when Jeremy Corbyn, who, according to Mo Mowlam’s account, was influential in helping to bring the warring sides together, removed Theresa May’s majority in 2017, it was a deal with the DUP that kept her in Government. The Tories owe the DUP, and that is creating a situation where their intransigence and general hostility to all things foreign is likely to lead to renewed tension in the island as the majority nationalist population lose patience with the political games being played by the unionists, who simply cannot accept that their days as the most powerful grouping, backed by the British state, are over.
The historic peace agreement signed on April 10th 1998 ended a period of bloodshed in Irish history which had lasted for over 100 years. Brexit threatens to unravel all that, not that Brexiteers were in the least worried. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein have gone from being relatively unimportant fringe players to being real wielders of power in both the Republic of Ireland and the Six Counties. The growing popularity of Sinn Fein threatens the dominance of the Unionists, who have prevented Stormont from operating since the signing of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Since the protocol became effective, trade frictions between the rest of the UK and NI have gradually arisen, causing some UK businesses to reduce or entirely stop exporting to NI. Increased paperwork costs, EU product requirement checks on goods such as animal and dairy products, delivery delays due to insufficient border control infrastructure, and political tensions have been associated with the introduction of the protocol.
There is no easy answer to this problem. Well, there is one. Westminster and the British establishment could accept that they have no right to be interfering in Irish politics and allow the North to become part of the Republic. As such they would be part of the EU and no border would be necessary. End of problem. But far too logical to actually happen.
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