With many observers focusing on the possibility of renewed instability stemming from the threatened “hardening” of the UK-imposed “border” between the north-east of Ireland and the rest of the country, some have tended to overlook other crucial parts of the peace process damaged by Britain’s atavistic Brexit referendum vote last June. As I wrote a week ago:
“By withdrawing from the European Union through the so-called Brexit referendum, and now vowing to abandon the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the United Kingdom has torn up several key clauses in the Belfast Agreement, and is effectively repudiating the peace settlement of 1998. Without the accords, in their totality, as reached between the parties in the north-east of the country and between the Irish and British governments, the region may well revert to a state of political instability. Britain’s likely reneging of its national and international obligations in relation to the Six Counties is the undermining of a “Versailles Treaty” in a corner of 21st century Europe. This will require difficult but necessary choices for the leaders of Ireland and the European Union in the coming months. Stand up to Britain’s bad faith or capitulate to the diktats of a discredited administration in London and risk the end of nearly two decades of relative progress in the northern part of this island nation.
The formula for renewed conflict is clear. No membership of the European Union and European Convention on Human Rights in the UK-ruled Six Counties: no Good Friday Agreement, no peace process, no peace…”
On the specific issue of the boundary line, and the rolling back of the “soft reunification” we have witnessed over the last two decades, the United Kingdom’s underhandedness in its dealings with this island nation are made worse by poor reporting of the subject. Take this debatable claim from the Guardian newspaper in London:
“David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has promised there will be no return to any “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic when the UK leaves the European Union.
On a visit to Belfast on Thursday, Davis vowed there will be “no return to the past” in terms of armed checkpoints and border checks along the UK’s only land frontier with an EU state.”
Except that David Davis didn’t make a specific vow in those terms. Instead he wrote an article for the Belfast Telegraph, to coincide with his visit to the Six Counties, where he stated that:
“Along with all political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, we will continue to work for peace, stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland. As the Government’s manifesto set out last year, we are committed to a brighter, more secure future for the people who live here.
We had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union.
We are clear we do not want a hard border – no return to the past – and no unnecessary barriers to trade. What we will do is deliver a practical solution that will work in everyone’s interests, and I look forward to opening the conversation about how that should operate with my colleagues today.”
The minister may have publicly claimed that he does not “want” a British-enforced hard border in Ireland but he has not explicitly ruled it out. History has shown us that the UK will always put its selfish interests before peace or treaty. If judged “practical” the Conservative Party government in London would certainly seek to throw up a new “separation barrier” of checkpoints and approved roads around the north-east of the country.
The question now is, who or what could deter it from doing so?