World by Storm has done an excellent job of rebuffing the latest Brexit-facilitating proposals from Lord Bew and the Policy Exchange, a neoconservative think tank in Britain. Like many others of his generation the Belfast-born historian has followed a well-trodden path from left-wing student radical to right-wing reactionary, his role as a confidant of the Ulster Unionist Party during the peace process in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and his subsequent endeavours in politics and academia lending scholarly gravitas to the pro-union cause at home and abroad. His newest manifesto, the pompously titled “What do we want from the next Prime Minister? A series of policy ideas for new leadership: The Backstop“, builds upon his previous Brexit-related works, offering the most torturous interpretations of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 to suggest several ways that the United Kingdom can undermine or excise the Backstop Protocol, a negotiated peace-protecting clause in the country’s Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union.
As one might imagine it is pretty fatuous stuff, a recycling of previously proposed and rejected ideas hiding behind the insinuation that London must protect the regional and international peace treaty that is the Good Friday Agreement from the selfish machinations of Brussels and Dublin. Indeed, there is something of an old-fashioned colonialist framing to the argument in the manifesto when it comes to the latter party, along the lines of the British having to save the Irish from themselves. Bew gives the game away fairly early on in the document:
In any circumstances, the next Prime Minister is duty bound to give the state of the United Kingdom his or her fullest attention. Today, in an era in which the Union is being questioned and challenged, the cohesion of the British nation state must be the absolute priority of anyone seeking to hold the highest office.
…the government must recognise that Brexit has opened up the Union to a new nationalist and separatist agenda and respond in kind. …the government must seek to shape that moment with a positive vision for the functioning of the UK that counters nationalist or separatist solutions.
A solution on the Irish border which creates a special status for Northern Ireland or customs border between it and the rest of the United Kingdom in the Irish Sea should be resisted.
And while the House of Lords member claims that any new exit solution must have the “preservation of the peace process at its core” it is clear that the preservation of the “union” is the greater priority here. As an indicator of unionist political thinking in general, even among supposed pro-union moderates and their British or Irish apologists, the necessity for dissembling and confabulation is quite telling. And it reminds us that for some individuals and factions in the UK – and in its colonial holdout on this island – Brexit is simply an isolationist means to a partitionist ends.