Brextremists willing to sacrifice Irish peace settlement
I’m almost bored saying this, but there are major flaws at the heart of Brexit and the Brextremists are starting to get worried about them.
Put simply, the problem is that the government(and Labour) is trying to placate both sides of the debate. They are telling Remainers that everything is going to be pretty much the same while telling Leavers that everything is going to be different. This can be seen most clearly with regards to the Irish border question.
On one hand, there isn’t going to be a border and trade and travel will continue as unhindered as before. On the other hand, the Government is saying they want to leave the EU Single Market and dramatically cut immigration.
These two goals are unfortunately mutually exclusive. Don’t get me wrong, they are not physically impossible to achieve, they are just politically unreconcilable.
There are only two ways make that position work.
The first would be to negotiate a bespoke deal that allows the UK to cherry-pick the parts of the EU it likes. This can’t happen as the EU won’t incentivise its own collapse by encouraging other countries to leave.
The second solution is a special deal for Northern Ireland. This can’t happen because the DUP are hell bent against the idea and the Tories need DUP votes to remain in power.
To be fair to the most extreme Brexiteers, they realise there is a problem here.
They are aware that sooner or later May is going to have to choose a side and they probably worry that it won’t be them she chooses. Which is probably why we have seen, in recent days, a concerted attack by them on the Good Friday Agreement. The very thing that most sensible people are worried that Brexit will damage.
Arch Brexiteer Daniel Hannan wrote an article in the Telegraph criticising the agreement.
The Belfast Agreement is often spoken about in quasi-religious terms – literally, for it is more widely known as the Good Friday Agreement. But its flaws have become clearer over time. The original deal represented a bribe to two sets of hardliners who, having opposed power-sharing, came to support it when they realised that they would be the direct beneficiaries. For 20 years, Sinn Féin and the DUP have propped each other up like two exhausted boxers in a clinch. A permanent grand coalition leaves them free to reward their supporters with subsidies and sinecures.
Labour MP and leave campaigner Kate Hoey also took a pop at it.
I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement.Even if a settlement had been agreed a few days ago there is nothing to stop Sinn Fein or the DUP finding something else to walk out about in a few months. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term.
The Belfast agreement has been changed slightly over the years with the St Andrew’s agreement. We need to face reality – Sinn Fein don’t particularly want a successful Northern Ireland. They want a united Ireland.
And Eurosceptic in Chief Owen Patterson also waded in.
Now, all three of those politicians are older than me.
Yet I am old enough to remember how bad the situation was in Northern Ireland in the decades prior to the peace talks. That the country has changed dramatically in the intervening years is so obvious a point that it is hardly worth labouring on it. Suffice to say, I have vivid childhood memories of the news being dominated by bitterness, horror and bloodshed related to what was known as ‘The Troubles’.
I also visited Belfast while a student in the mid-nineties and have been there again much more recently. The difference is like night and day. Back then, even the touristy parts of Belfast felt militarised and were intimidating places to be and now the bulk of the city just feels normal.
There are many problems in Northern Ireland but only a fool could fail to see what progress the Good Friday Agreement laid the ground for.
Progress the Brexiteers are all too willing to jeopardise by talking down the potential impact of Brexit and by questioning the negotiated framework for peace.
What they won’t acknowledge though, is that collapse of the recent power-sharing talks had a lot more to do with Brexit than a fatal flaw with the Belfast Agreement itself. There was a lot of talk about the Irish language being the sticking point but I would wager the future relationship with the EU was a bigger factor. Sinn Féin want a special deal for Ireland which, as we mentioned above, is a red line that the DUP are willing to bring down the British government over.
Sure, mandatory powersharing in normal circumstances probably isn’t the best way to run a democracy.
However, anyone who grew up during the troubles knows Northern Ireland wasn’t a particularly normal country until very recently. The Good Friday agreement is still fragile and at grave risk from the Brexit process. Attacking it now is foolhardy and increases the chances of a shift back to darker times.
The hard-Brexiteers must be smart enough to know this. I can’t be alone in finding it deeply worrying that they don’t care. Losing a hard-fought peace process that ended decades of misery, to them, would be worthwhile collateral damage on the road to their precious, ideological goal.