Last week ended with press reports that Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was discussing plans with her Cabinet colleagues to propose a new bilateral treaty between the UK and Ireland to negate the need for the Irish-focused backstop clause in the draft withdrawal agreement between London and Brussels. A suggestion which the government in Dublin immediately dismissed as untenable, insisting that any protocols to prevent the reestablishment of a hard border around the Six Counties must be part of a broader deal between Britain and the European Union. This definitive response scuppered a rather obvious attempt by the British premier to drive a wedge into the largely united front presented by the EU and its member states on the question of maintaining the near-invisible status of the UK frontier in Ireland through regulatory alignment across the island.
Unfortunately this week is beginning with similar rumours from London, with claims that May and her faction-riven government is contemplating the possibility of amending the Good Friday Agreement of 1998; the combined regional and international peace accords which effectively ended forty years of conflict in the north-east of Ireland. In particular, it seems that the Conservative Party leader intends to argue for a new annex to the treaty between Dublin and London, whereby the latter will guarantee an open customs border around the Six Counties, with no inspections or checks of any kind on the partition boundary between north and south. According to the establishment newspaper, The Daily Telegraph:
“One of the proposals under consideration is rewriting the 1998 accord to assure Ireland that the UK is committed to no hard border on the island after the UK leaves the European Union in March.
Ministers believe that adding some text into the agreement would serve as a way of avoiding having to commit the UK to the backstop.”
However, this rather sketchy suggestion most certainly does not eliminate the possibility of customs services being required on or near the border at some future date, whatever the best intentions of both parties, unless the Six Counties remains in some form of common rule-taking with the rest of Europe, with exterior checks at the region’s airports and seaports. Something UK ministers and officials must be aware of.
Even worse, playing games with what the United Nations’ aptly describes as the “Northern Ireland Peace Treaty” in a dubious attempt to satisfy or mollify the Brexit fanaticism of the Conservative Party backbenches and their allies in the Democratic Unionist Party, many of whom actively opposed the conflict-ending 1998 agreement in the first place, is utterly reckless. With political and communal tensions ratcheting up in the British legacy colony on this side of the Irish Sea, the last thing we need is historically illiterate or downright malevolent politicians in Downing Street and Westminster stirring up the ashes of a barely cooled fire in pursuit of an ideological impossibility.