A so-called War Cabinet has been formed by the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson to aggressively force Ireland to accept a hardening and reinforcement of Britain’s century-old border across the island.
With extraordinary speed, Johnson has issued threat after threat to crash out of the EU with no deal on October 31 unless the Backstop -- the previously agreed insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland -- is abolished.
Johnson has named a cabal of six senior Cabinet Ministers, styled as a ‘War Cabinet’, which will meet every Monday to take the fight to Ireland and the European Union. They include the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, and the ‘Minister for No-Deal Brexit’, Michael Gove.
A complicit Tory media has already delivered a barrage of attacks on the 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who they have identified as a weak spot. Leading Tories declared that the Taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”.
In a calculated move, Johnson delayed placing a phone call to Varadkar for over a week since ascending to the premiership. He has insisted the removal of the backstop is a precondition for any Brexit deal.
But Mr Varadkar has said there will be no change to the Backstop. He said “any suggestion that there would be a whole new deal negotiated in weeks or months is totally not in the real world.”
His deputy, the foreign minister Simon Coveney, warned that Johnson’s approach to Brexit is “very unhelpful” and has put Britain on “a collision course” with Ireland and the European Union.
He added: “I think it’s important to say very clearly, if respectfully, that the facts don’t change around Brexit.”
In response, the Brexiteers described Dublin as “belligerent” and “inflammatory”, with Varadkar dismissed as “ill-informed and arrogant”. He and Coveney were blasted as “little Ireland’s ridiculous leaders”. The DUP piped in by accusing Dublin of “megaphone diplomacy”.
It was a coordinated effort to portray Ireland as the obstacle. Johnson stands accused of preparing for a Westminster election by fomenting an international crisis in order to invoke the ‘spirit of the Blitz’, rallying English nationalism against traditional enemies of Ireland, Germany, France and the rest of the EU.
It all makes a mockery of the British government’s obligation -- as a co-signatory of the Good Friday Agreement -- to exercise its power in the North with rigorous impartiality.
The principle of consent -- that the will of the people in the North is respected on constitutional matters -- also continues to be completely ignored.
Almost overlooked is that the uncertainty being wrought by Johnson’s government has deliberately pushed the peace process to the brink. Official British reports of their crash-Brexit preparations have all but dismissed the potential of a return to violence in the north of Ireland, warning only of “potential law and order issues” over a month after Brexit takes place
The ongoing level of violence in the north is already ignored by the British media. This includes three nights of rioting by nationalist youths in the North Queen Street area of north Belfast amid tension over anti-internment bonfires, which saw several petrol bombs thrown at the PSNI, as well as ana bomb attack the PSNI described as ‘potentially catastrophic’.
The Continuity IRA has said it carried out a rocket attack on a PSNI patrol in north Armagh around midnight on Friday.
They said a horizontal mortar rocket was fired at a passing police patrol on the Tullygally Road beside Alderdale flats on but had missed its target. They warned that a “live warhead” remained in the area before the item was defused by British Army bomb disposal team.
For its part, the PSNI claimed that their patrol had been deliberately lured to the area by the CIRA warning and that it had been targeted by a “booby-trap device”. Had it detonated as intended, the result “would undoubtedly have been catastrophic”.
Following a meeting with Johnson in Belfast on Wednesday, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald was unequivocal that a crash Brexit for Britain must trigger a reunification referendum in Ireland.
“We made it clear to him that the extensive planning he tells us he is carrying out in respect of a potential crash Brexit has to include the constitutional question and the issue of a border poll here in Ireland,” she said.
“We have stated to him very clearly that Brexit in any event, but certainly a disorderly Brexit, represents in anybody’s language a dramatic change of circumstances on this island and it would be unthinkable in those circumstances that people would not be given the opportunity to decide on our future together.”