Brexit separation gets messier thanks to Trumpian disregard for diplomacy and the law

Posted By: March 06, 2021


Brexit separation gets messier thanks to Trumpian disregard for diplomacy and the law


John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, March 6, 2021


Divorce is rarely a painless process and when a marriage falls apart, the greatest impact is most often felt by the children. The divorce analogy applied to Brexit works only to a limited degree but it is reasonable to cast Northern Ireland as the child that has become the collateral damage in a messy separation.


The post-estrangement arrangements aren’t helped by the fact that one of the adults is behaving erratically and failing to meet their responsibilities.


There were warnings ahead of the EU referendum that the peace process would be destabilized but for Brexiteers, including the DUP, this was subordinate to the desire to sever ties with Brussels.


Arlene Foster’s party naively believed that because they were on the winning side there was nothing to worry about. The DUP gleefully welcomed Boris Johnson’s commitment to “ditch the backstop”, making the misguided assumption that his alternative would be much more sympathetic to Unionism.


Now they are living with the consequences of being too trusting of a man whose personal and political integrity has always been open to question.


The Protocol is an imperfect solution to a problem for which there is no easy fix. It is cumbersome, exacting, and places some additional costs on businesses but in its defense, it’s important to point out that it’s early days and it is still infinitely better, for political and practical reasons than a regulatory land Border.


And despite what Unionists claim, it has majority political support in The North, as well as being a key component in an international treaty.


Left to bed in and tweaked were necessary, the protocol’s problems can be overcome yet, unfortunately, it has been weaponized, by all sides to a degree but most enthusiastically by the DUP, which against a background of apparent falling support, moved in a matter of weeks from tacit acceptance to outright opposition.


Recent meetings with the representatives of illegal loyalist paramilitary groups, whose raison d’être these days is more criminal than political, have helped bolster its position but also taken politics back a couple of decades.


The sense that we are quickly moving away from acceptable political standards and nearer to a Trumpian disregard for diplomacy and the law was underlined by the British government’s unilateral extension of grace periods this week, a move that reportedly came when the EU was getting ready to grant mitigations but has now hardened opinion in Brussels. There’s a strong suspicion that London took this action simply to appease Tory Eurosceptics who are unhappy that relations with the EU, as manifested in the Irish Sea border, remain cordial.


Politicking of this kind will have little adverse effects in the English shires but it sets a poor example to those on this side of the Irish Sea who are minded to use unlawful methods to further their cause.


From the Ulster Covenant, and the Ulster Workers Council, through to even the flag protests, political unionism has always been adept at stoking tensions among its working-class base, though the latter showed how ineffective civil disobedience is when matched by accountable policing. But in desperation there again appears to be an effort to pull Loyalism’s chain,  and inevitably disown the consequences.


Calm heads and reasoned arguments are needed in The North, while London, Dublin, and Brussels need to be more cognizant of the impact their actions can have on stability in the region. Before anybody – the British government and DUP ministers especially— seek minor political advantage through expedient moves, they should think of the children.