BY ANDREW KELLY
Among all the failures of the disgraceful capitulation of the UK PM’s deal, no doubt the biggest was accepting that the Eire/Ulster issue is the UK’s problem to solve. This was a trap set by the EU that our (useless) negotiators willingly entered and is now the central complication in an apparently intractable problem (for the UK to solve).
As an aside, I smell Tony Blair’s guidance all over this issue, supported by his cohort within the same Civil Service that approached the Belfast Agreement with a fundamental assumption that Ireland would be united in the near future – information that might have been useful to the soldiers and civilians who died defending democracy in Ulster from 1969.
What (I can only guess) was never made clear was why the 1925 Common Travel Area (CTA) between Eire and the UK had been ignored and why. The CTA is a classic British fudge of how to reconcile the ‘family dispute’ that was Irish secession in 1923. It was/is designed to recognise that notwithstanding the obvious conflict that the peoples of these islands were inter-related.
Within the context of the UK’s departure from the EU there is no good reason why the CTA does not continue, as indeed it does today, within the strictures of the EU’s immigration policies (that are frankly laughable, but that is another issue).
And while I have heard the PM and other detractors use the ‘Irish Border Problem’ as a biblical problem that must be discussed in reverential tones, I have never heard anyone explain why and how this is such a dangerous prospect; moreover, why it is purely the UK’s problem to solve. As someone who lived and breathed Irish politics and conflict for many decades, I must have missed something.
The simple fact is that the CTA fixes the ostensible problem for both Eire and the UK. Clearly it does not suit the EU as it presents that organisation a choice to either enforce its border or accept a CTA that it does not control – which may be the actual issue presented as a British problem (to solve).
Finally, no-one has factored in the as yet unmentioned issue of Ulster protestants, who, in 1914, became the first heavily armed resistance to the prospect of Home Rule (for Ireland as a whole). By glibly carving off Ulster from the UK for no substantive reason (the details are irrelevant – it is emotional, not technical) the PM aims to satisfy the EU’s and Eire’s demands, but in so doing she potentially unleashes the much more dangerous (than the republican) unionist backlash.
By correctly defining the Irish border issue; by fully understanding the Belfast Agreement, not the myth, the UK can unlock the current Gordian Knot and reshape our relationship in a more sensible, adult manner.
As a postscript it is worth noting that you cannot negotiate with a religious zealot – we are being terribly British and fair. The other side – Barnier, Weyand, Selmayr etc – are zealots. To get a decent result our side must change the angle of attack.