The news that a senior member of the British Labour Party has dismissed the likelihood of a return to open conflict in the north-east of Ireland if a “hard border” is imposed around the United Kingdom’s anomalous territory on the island is no surprise to anyone with a knowledge of modern Irish history. Many of the most draconian counterinsurgency policies implemented by the UK during the first decade of the so-called Troubles were ordered by Labour governments in London. More contemporaneously, some in the political grouping make no secret about placing a greater value on electoral success at home than they do about maintaining peace in the country’s last bit of overseas’ empire. That includes taking a softly softly approach to Brexit, voicing no more than rhetorical concerns about the chaotic nature of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and its future relations with the continental bloc.
According to the Red Roar, a left-leaning website in Britain, the Labour Party’s shadow secretary for international trade, Barry Gardiner, has described the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 as a “shibboleth” during a recent private meeting with members of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Dismissing the significance of the historic Northern Ireland peace pact ahead of its 20th anniversary on Tuesday, Gardiner said it should be ignored during the Brexit negotiations.
He went on to rubbish the six tests set by shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer as “meaningless” and unsuitable as a measure of whether Labour should vote for or against the Tory Brexit deal. He then told MEPs that if they voted against any Brexit deal Theresa May negotiated with the EU27 they would be voting to make Jacob Rees Mogg Prime Minister.
Gardiner was speaking at a seminar organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Stifung – the thinktank of Die Linke, the party that grew out of the remnants of East Germany’s former ruling Communists. The audience – visibly shocked – included Brian Carty, a senior adviser to Sinn Féin (whose MEPs sit with Die Linke in the European Parliament) as well as senior figures in Momentum.
This revelation comes after Labour’s embattled pro-Europeans were left horrified when Emily Thornberry told the Chatham House think-tank that Labour would vote for what she called a “blah, blah, blah” Brexit…
Many in the PLP thought this amounted to little more than letting the Tory hard core Brexiters, who want to fudge all the hard issues, especially Northern Ireland, get away with it.
Despite half-hearted denials and dissembling by Gardnier and his associates, the Guardian newspaper has backed up the Red Roar story, which has now published a transcript and audio of the speech:
…forgive me because this is not a popular thing to say, but actually, common sense tells you that, here, people have confused cause and effect, and the importance of the Good Friday Agreement in getting rid of the infrastructure on the Irish border was precisely because the watchtowers and the security paraphernalia and the soldiers standing there with guns were a target for paramilitary activity. And it was important to remove that, to take away that target for paramilitary activity, and to go back to what was a normal border relationship. Now, we went back to that normal border relationship at a time when we were both – the UK and the Republic of Ireland – were in the EU, and so a normal border relationship was a completely friction-free border. But that doesn’t mean that putting in a normal border relationship when one party is no longer in the EU will bring back paramilitary activity – that is to confuse cause and effect.
And I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday agreement. And that is because it is hugely in the Republic of Ireland’s economic interest to make sure that there is no tariff and no external border there.