An international effort is coming together to try to stop the British government from collapsing the Irish Protocol of Brexit and causing potentially catastrophic damage to the peace process.
The Tory war cabinet, led by arch Brexiteer ‘Baron’ David Frost (pictured, right), are now widely reported to be ready to trigger Article 16 of the Irish Protocol as a wrecking ball against the Brexit commitments they agreed to less than a year ago.
If brought into effect, the plan would trigger a withdrawal from the Brexit treaty deal on Ireland, which in turn could force the return of a remilitarised ‘hard’ border through the island.
Irish EU and US diplomats are working to prepare a strong response to the British strategy with a variety of retaliations and legal actions, but the damage to the peace process could be immediate and irreversible.
The strategy is also believed to have directly or indirectly motivated recent loyalist disturbances, in order to create the illusion of popular unionist unrest as a pretext for triggering the breach.
Amid a deteriorating political climate, nationalists and republicans are being urged to remain alert to the provocations and entrapments of the British state and their loyalist supporters.
In reality, there is overwhelming opposition to the Tory strategy in both parts of the island, with more than two in three opposed in the North of Ireland alone, according to the latest poll.
There was welcome support from US President Joe Biden and the US House of Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. After a meeting in the White House with the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyden, both called for the Brexit Protocol to be honoured.
The Commission President said “it is very important” that the Brexit and Protocol agreements remains intact.
“They are the possibility to keep peace and stability on the island of Ireland.. it is important to stick to what we have agreed and signed together.”
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee, made up of Republican and Democrat Representatives, also reaffirmed support for the Protocol and for the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The Good Friday Agreement and broader peace process took patience and time to build, with good faith contributions from the communities in Northern Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and others. However, peace can unravel quickly,” they said in a statement.
“In threatening to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the United Kingdom threatens to not only destabilize trade relations, but also that hard earned peace. We call on the UK to abandon this dangerous path, and to commit to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in full.”
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill called for an end to British government threats and the “incendiary language” over the Protocol, which she said had contributed to the recent street disorder.
Two buses were hijacked and burned out in loyalist areas by gangs of the paramilitary UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), while youths from the loyalist Shankill Road have also been instigating trouble.
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson darkly warned that the Protocol should be scrapped “as an urgent requirement to protect peace”, while hardline unionist Jim Allister hinted at the real concern for unionists.
“Every day the Protocol stays is another day of construction of the all-Ireland economy”, he declared.
The campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit said that the Protocol is indeed protecting cross-border business on the island of Ireland, but said they believe the British government is determined to create a huge confrontation with the EU to satisfy hardline Tory MPs.
“The Protocol is supported by a majority of the people in the North, by a majority of the members of the Assembly, but this matters not one bit to those Tory toffs who will tear up an international treaty without a second thought,” they said.
They added: “This utterly reckless attack upon the Protocol is an attack on every person living on the island of Ireland, and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that triggering the breach “would demonstrate just again colossal bad faith and demonstrate again that Ireland, the north of Ireland in particular, is collateral damage in the Tory Brexit as they play games and play a game of chicken with the European institutions.
“I would also say that if the British government imagine that they hold all of the cards they are wrong and they’re playing a very, very dangerous game.”
Dublin’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told the parliament on Thursday that he had been speaking to the Biden administration directly this week.
He said the breach would be very damaging to relationships between Ireland and Britain, Britain and the EU and Britain and the United States.
It is feared some Tory hardliners are determined to crash out of the Brexit accords at the earliest opportunity, while others may view the threat of it as a means to a renegotiation.
The 26 County Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned London that it would not end up with a better deal if it continues in its path. He said his government is activating contingency planning in preparation for a possible full unravelling of the Brexit deal.
He said there are also contingency plans for a trade war between the EU and Britain and confirmed “rebalancing measures” are being readied as a response.
“The message I’d send to Boris Johnson is that we have an agreement in relation to Northern Ireland, we have an agreement in relation to trade with the European Union – don’t jeopardise it,” Mr Varadkar said.
“You were part of negotiating it, you own it, it was hard won, it’s a mistake to think that by escalating tensions or by trying to withdraw from any part of it, that you’ll end up with a better deal: you won’t.”