Brexit and the Return of The Troubles
On the same day that Britain's economy stalled, new PM Boris Johnson told the people working for him to make preparing for a no-deal Brexit their "absolute top priority".
It's both tragic and fitting that next week is the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside, the event that began The Troubles.
The GFA has worked astonishingly well in allowing Protestants and Catholics to have their separate identities and, on occasion though less effectively, to share power.
Brexit and the Conservative Party dependence on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for its parliamentary majority since 2017 has thrown all these gains into the air. DUP activists admit privately that they want a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic because they have never liked the GFA and would like to gut it. Sinn Fein, which gets about 70 per cent of the Catholic/nationalist vote these days, is pleased that the partition of Ireland is once again at the top of the political agenda.
“I am grappling with the idea of a hard border which I would call a Second Partition of Ireland,” Tom Hartley, a Sinn Fein veteran and former lord mayor of Belfast, told me. He is baffled by British actions that appear so much against their interests, saying that “they had parked the Irish problem, but now Ireland has moved once again into the centre of British politics”.
Paramilitaries were already on the rise on Northern Ireland even before Brexit. For the working class the Good Friday Agreement didn't solve much.
“People talk about the peace process that has been established here,” said Paddy Gallagher, a community activist and the current spokesman of Saoradh, a far-left republican party that police allege is the political wing of the New IRA. “I would call it a poverty process as opposed to a peace process.”
“Working-class people still suffer greatly from deprivation,” Gallagher said. “We still suffer greatly from lack of employment, lack of health care, lack of education, lack of housing. So all the issues that working-class communities suffered 20, 30, 40 years ago, we still suffer from those today. There hasn’t been much change, to be honest.”
The problems he is talking about isn't limited to Irish Catholics. These same problems led to the frustrations that brought about Brexit.
The 310-mile Irish border, the land boundary that separates Northern Ireland — which is part of the United Kingdom — from the Republic of Ireland, was heavily militarized during the Troubles. After the GFA the watchtowers came down, the checkpoints disappeared.
But the real trick of the GFA was that it conferred dual nationality on every resident of Northern Ireland. Everyone could be both Irish and British.
Brexit will end that.
Sooner or later, a border guard will be shot at.
What scares so many people about a no-deal Brexit, besides the economic shock involved, is that the “Irish backstop,” a term that just refers to a guarantee that actual physical checkpoints for goods and people trying to cross it — won’t be put in place when the EU and UK break up.
The right-wing, pro-Brexit press in Britain is now blaming Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar, because taking responsibility for one's actions is not something conservatives do anymore.
Jeremy Corbyn is a EU-skeptic, but most of his party is pro-Remain. Unless Labour wants to get passed by the Lib Dems, Labour has to take a "People's Vote" position (which they have).
Besides, the Tories have firmly staked out the pro-Brexit.
Remember that Brexit passed by less than 3%, and it passed because the pro-Brexit people made promises that they couldn't keep.
No deal was never a proposition during the referendum campaign; the electorate were left with the impression that a negotiated agreement would be swift, easy and painless – that we would “hold all the cards”, as Michael Gove put it. Polling consistently shows that a no-deal exit from the EU is a position endorsed by only a minority of the electorate.
The Lib Dems, a neoliberal party, are blaming Corbyn for this mess and demanding that Labour step aside. Which is ridiculous.
Labour is likely to force a no-confidence vote, which will likely trigger an election.
The problem is that the soonest an election can happen is Oct. 31 - the day of Brexit.