Following a number of media appearances over the weekend I think I may have been overgenerous in my interpretation of some recent statements by Jeremy Hunt, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and his appreciation of the need for careful language and opinions in the badly strained relations between Ireland and the UK. Far from indicating signs of political maturity, it seems that the minister’s call late last week for “both sides” in the Irish-British Troubles to be treated “in the same way” was less about about protecting the Good Friday Agreement from the excesses of Brexit-driven politics in London and more about pandering to the capital’s domestic press and its hyperbolic narrative suggesting that former members of the British Armed Forces were being subject to unfair treatment in the examination of historical war crimes from the thirty year conflict. Consequentially the obvious implication of his own words, that veteran volunteers of the Irish Republican Army and veteran soldiers of the British Army should be regarded in the same way in the wake of the regional and international peace accords signed in 1998, was more of a rhetorical accident than a deliberate policy change.
Predictably Jeremy Hunt’s spokespeople hurriedly retreated from the implicit logic of the MP’s statement as his Conservative Party colleagues turned on him and right-wing newspapers went into outrage mode with a number of leading commentators calling for his resignation. These included the UK special forces’ veteran Robin Horsfall who claimed that the IRA was responsible for “murdering more than 6000 members of the security services” during the course of the Troubles. Which doubles the total number of 3600 military and civilian fatalities recorded in the entire conflict, including the 1100 civilians killed by the British Forces and their allies in the loyalist terror gangs. Incredibly not a single publication or media organisation in Britain corrected this entirely false figure despite the publicity given to it in the press, on television, radio and online.
Following the above controversy Jeremy Hunt seems to have largely abandoned his previous reputation as a levelheaded pro-Remain politician in a now single-minded pursuit of the leadership of the Conservative Party, chasing after the favoured contender, Boris Johnson. The government minister has begun to brandish his unionist credentials, posing as a defender of the United Kingdom and its territorial integrity in the face of supposed expansionist ambitions from Ireland and the European Union abroad and separatist machinations at home. This includes the English MP’s claim on the BBC that:
“I have Welsh blood in me, Irish blood in me, I spend a couple of very happy years of my childhood in Scotland. I am a unionist to my fingertips, and I will never allow our union to be broken up.”
Hunt’s deliberate conflation of being Irish with being British, and by implication the sense that Ireland is still a subject member of the British “union” of England, Wales and Scotland, is fascinating and indicates that far from being nuanced in his thinking when it comes to this island he is very much a Tory in the Greater England mode. A mode which seems to view the existence of an independent and sovereign nation-state of Ireland as little more than a polite fiction that London should best ignore. Or bring to heel.