Government rejects Trimble’s warnings over its Brexit stance

Posted By: April 07, 2018

Former first minister said Dublin’s Border remarks risk provoking paramilitaries

Fiach Kelly, Simon Carswell, Steven McCaffrey. Irish Times
Leading Government and Opposition figures have rejected warnings from former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble that the Government’s Brexit strategy risks provoking loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr. Trimble has claimed paramilitaries could become active because of “silly things” the Government is saying.

“What is happening now is that people are talking up the issue of Brexit and the Border for the benefit of a different agenda from the agreement,” he said. “The one thing that would provoke loyalist paramilitaries is the present Irish Government saying silly things about the Border and the constitutional issue.

“If it looks as though the constitutional arrangements of the agreement, based on the principle of consent, are going to be superseded by so-called special EU status, that is going to weaken the union and undermine the very agreement that Dublin says it wants to uphold,” he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described Mr. Trimble’s comments, which coincide with events celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, as “a stark illustration of the uncertainty and instability that has been injected into the Northern Ireland political bloodstream by Brexit.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney also rejected the former Ulster Unionist leader’s statement. Mr. Coveney’s spokesman said Dublin was fighting in the Brexit talks to protect the “hard-won peace on the island of Ireland.”

Mr. Trimble, the leader of political unionism when the Belfast Agreement was signed, is now a Tory peer in the UK House of Lords and is an advocate of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Hong Kong example

Mr. Trimble has accused Irish officials of going “around Brussels” claiming the example of Hong Kong should be applied to the North. It would effectively mean Northern Ireland, to avoid a hard border, could continue to apply EU customs rules while the rest of Britain did not.

“Anything that looks remotely like this or is building on that foundation would be extremely dangerous,” Mr. Trimble said.

Mr. Coveney’s spokesman said the EU27 “reached an agreement with the British government last December guaranteeing avoidance of a hard border and maintaining full alignment North-South in the absence of a deal.”

Mr. Martin, who says Northern Ireland should be made a special economic zone after Brexit, said Mr. Trimble’s comments displayed a rationale that is an “unwelcome side effect of the effort on behalf of some to aggressively link Brexit” with efforts to unite Ireland.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Belfast news website The Detail, published in today’s Irish Times, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton asked what future the DUP and Sinn Féin expect if the Stormont Executive is not restored.

“I’m just wondering, those who refuse to come together to create a government, what is the future they expect? Are they hoping to just maintain a status quo where no decisions, good bad or indifferent, are made and where some of the promises of a peace dividend will not be fulfilled?”

Describing Brexit as “a short-sighted and unfortunate decision,” she added: “That’s for the UK to sort out, but they better figure out what to do about the Border in order to maintain the peace.”