Irish America not dissidents were responsible for keeping land border frictionless

Posted By: February 05, 2021



Allison Morris Irish News. Thursday, February 4, 2021


SO, how’s Brexit treating you all?


Taking back control, making Britain great again, or am I mixing up my meaningless slogans?


When identity is used to rile people up to cover for a lack of substance or strategy it’s only ever going to end badly.


The thing is, no-one, not even the most ardent anti-Brexit campaigners, could have predicted it would go so badly, so quickly.


I know there’s little sympathy for journalists in the general community, but as I raised a well-earned glass on Friday evening I sympathized with colleagues working the graveyard shift and trying to work out what on earth the EU was playing at.


Article 16 of the Northern Irish protocol was placed into the withdrawal agreement as an insurance policy, a last-minute safeguard, the nuclear option.


The protocol was the best Boris Johnson could come up with, the DUP had already vetoed the much less cumbersome backstop, as proposed by former Prime Minister Theresa May.


Article 16, a mechanism that could be used by the EU or UK to unilaterally suspend aspects of its operations if either side considers that aspect to be causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” was intended for an Armageddon type situation.


That it was triggered by the EU just 29 days into the new arrangements, over a row over vaccine supply, was bizarre in the extreme.


It also played into the hands of those who want to torpedo the protocol at any cost, those who also want to use Article 16, not for the purpose it was intended but as a way of moving checks from the sea to the land border.


The EU backtracked within hours, but the damage was done and who could blame those with an agenda for exploiting this act of carelessness?


Loyalists are now talking about threats of violence being “rewarded'” during the negotiations as an excuse for the wrecking ball approach to the protocol.


But avoiding a return of checkpoints along the border and minimizing potential disruption of cross-border trade was not – as some loyalists and hardline unionists would have you believe – as a result of threats of dissident violence.


That a handful – and only a small group of republicans are still wedded to violence – could be responsible for shaping an international trade deal between the UK and 27 members states is fairly ridiculous.


As a security journalist I spent several years answering questions about the threat from dissidents linked to Brexit from a range of foreign reporters who seemed disappointed that I wasn’t predicting tanks on the border.


The real pressure on Westminster to keep the border frictionless was never solely a domestic one, but as a result of the powerful Irish American lobby.


Desperate to make up the deficit from the loss of trade incurred by leaving the EU, Britain had placed many eggs in the US basket.


When speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “If the UK violates its international agreements and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of UK-US free trade agreement passing the Congress,” Downing Street sat up, took notice and started looking for creative solutions.


Newly elected president Joe Biden also joined the clamour of Democrats warning Boris Johnson not to let the Good Friday agreement become a casualty of the Brexit talks.


The reality is it was these powerful voices, and not the threat of a few boys at the border armed with a rusty Libyan rifle, who helped shape the current protocol.


It was the DUP who championed Brexit, the DUP who – unlike many of their Parliamentary colleagues – understood the geography of this island and the problems that would cause.


Some within the DUP aligned themselves with the ERG and the so-called ‘bad boys of Brexit’ thinking this would help destroy aspects of a peace treaty they never supported in the first place, believing that cutting off aspects of economic cross-border cooperation would strengthen the union rather than hasten calls for a border poll.


That it backfired on them quite spectacularly is the reason for much of the mess we now find ourselves in.


Unionists can now help make the protocol workable, try and make this place economically viable under the Brexit they championed.


Or they can – as was seen this week – assist those who want to make it unworkable and wreck it from the inside out.


Crashing the economy and further hindering trade to get their own way is a high stakes game to be playing.


Those considering it as a tactic need to think carefully about the long-term consequences of the political game of poker they are currently playing.