From an avowedly partisan television news report broadcast to UK viewers in September 1975*, a video clip of soldiers and engineers from the British Army in County Armagh destroying a local bridge at a crossing point on the disputed border around the United Kingdom’s diminished colony in the north-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. Britain’s counterinsurgency campaign from the 1970s to the early 2000s to control or curtail cross-border traffic into the occupied territory through the demolition of bridges, the cratering of roads, the construction of concrete barriers or the erection of fortified checkpoints, along with the deployment of 30,000 soldiers and police officers at the height of the ensuing conflict, turned the partition boundary into the most heavily militarised frontier in Europe, rivalling – and outlasting – the “Iron Curtain” between the member states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
The British TV broadcast from the 1970s, which ignores the views of the local civilian population for whom the small country bridge was a vital means of communication, is a useful reminder of the risks that London is taking in refusing to honour its commitments to the so-called “Irish backstop” agreement reached with the European Union. Risks which could plunge the UK-administered Six Counties back into a cycle of renewed violence if a “hard border”, a Partition 2.0, is reimposed around the contested region. And all this to assuage the conspiratorial fears and imperial fantasies of the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom, from the xenophobic backbenches of the Conservative Party to the hibernophobic ranks of the Democratic Unionist Party, and their right-wing media mouthpieces.
*The September 1975 report was produced by Independent Television News (ITN), effectively the news programming arm of ITV, Britain’s independent television network. Throughout the crucial first two decades of the Troubles or Long War, ITN prided itself on the popularity of its tabloid news reports with troops deployed from Britain to the north of Ireland: the “squaddies”. This led many observers and critics to dismiss ITN as a propaganda wing of the British Army, its journalism invariably echoing the experiences and views of the frontline soldiers and their commanders.