The Problem (Part 1 of 5)
With all the fuss over the Euro Final and the discussion of racism that ensued, nobody much noticed an item of non-news, a dog that did not bark in the night-time: celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne on July 12th was heralded by the usual massive bonfires. But there were no arrests or even unrest, much less rioting, as might have been expected, such as earlier in the summer. While this is to be welcomed, it does not mean the volcano rumbling under Ulster for centuries is dormant at last. It has not, any more than the recent replacement of Arlene Foster as leader of the DUP at the second attempt has made them into pliant political kittens. In fact, Northern Ireland stands at a crossroads just as pivotal as that in which it was formed a century ago. Its people are caught in an insoluble dilemma, brought to a head by Britain’s slipshod Brexit arrangements, supposed to resolve their unique status: Northern Ireland Protocol. This dilemma can be summed by:
- The EU requires a customs border between members and any non-EU country
- The 1998 Good Friday Agreement requires an open, invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which remains an EU member)
- The DUP insists there can be no form of border separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK; NI must be “an integral part of the UK”
Clearly, these three statements cannot all be fulfilled at the one time. This hard fact has been known since a “hard Brexit” was first mooted by Theresa May’s government. At that time, vague talk of “technical solutions” was made to gloss over this, none of which have since materialised. The Johnson government merely kicked the can down the road by taking no customs action to/from NI after Brexit became reality. The EU tolerated this as being temporary. But they are increasingly angry at being blamed for stirring up trouble by simply wanting the NI protocol to be followed.
Considering Ulster’s volatile history, Brexiteers pushing this line are playing with fire. The chance of all this going pear-shaped is made more likely by Johnson’s style. This situation calls for insightful patience and meticulous diplomacy. These traits appear entirely foreign to the PM. Delegation to N.I. Secretary Brandon Lewis solves nothing, as he has been given no leeway and shows no aptitude to dissemble creatively. There is no sign of good will and dedication that wrought the peace process miracle of 1998.
Indeed, a Machiavellian take on UK government actions would be to see this as an attempt to frame the EU in a bad light so as to blame them for inevitable difficulties stemming from this is months to come. Whatever its motivation, the UK government could soon find itself with a political forest fire of unrest reminiscent of the Troubles,. For any solution, the problem must be unwound back to roots running almost a millennia deep.
(to be continued)