Proposals for a deal to finally end the dispute over the implementation of Brexit in the north of Ireland have been derailed by the intransigence of Tory and unionist extremists.
There was an angry response in Ireland as a cast of Tory and unionist hardliners reasserted a colonial approach towards the north of Ireland without regard to the views of the majority.
Amid a media furore over the potential deal, the strong opposition to Brexit in both parts of Ireland went unmentioned. Insatiable Tory ‘eurosceptics’ happily resumed their efforts to break all ties between the EU and Britain – and the north of Ireland – and fully erase the European dimension of the Good Friday peace Agreement.
With their backing, unionists have upped their demands for further concessions, moving beyond an original shopping list of seven demands to demand the axing of EU laws and leave the Irish protocol of Brexit entirely under the control of British Crown courts.
Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson (second right) told Westminster that while any EU laws still apply in the north of Ireland, “then there cannot be, and there will not be, a positive response from this party”.
A string of Tory MPs engaged in jingoistic British nationalism and baldly asserted British sovereignty over the north of Ireland.
Former PM Boris Johnson (second left), who originally negotiated the Brexit deal, warned that honouring his own deal would be a “great mistake”. The scandalised former PM, forced to resign last July, is seeking to use the issue as a launchpad for his campaign to return to Downing Street.
Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg (left) questioned why “so much political capital” had been spent on the deal without seeking the pre-approval of the DUP. He joined Johnson in urging British PM Rishi Sunak to press ahead with legislation to renege on Brexit, in flagrant breach of international law, rather than risk upsetting unionists.
He said the reneging legislation had the support of “the person who had a mandate from the British voters” – Johnson – and argued Sunak should have also sought pre-approval from the powerful group of right-wing Tory MPs, the European Research Group (ERG).
But some ERG members made clear they would not accept any deal with the EU under any circumstances. That stance would trigger a trade war with the EU and a remilitarisation of the border through Ireland. One senior ERG member said the “protocol will never work” and it will just “get worse” if it is left in place.
Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, is to address the ERG next week. He has already claimed the deal on the table “falls short” of the seven conditions it laid out for the deal and for the resumption of powersharing in Stormont.
But there is little appetite for agreement from the DUP, who are leery of returning to Stormont following the election last May of a Sinn Fein First Minister after unionism fell into a minority for the first time. Their ultra-hardline unionist opponent, Jim Allister of the TUV (right), denounced the very idea as an act of treachery in a widely criticised speech during the week.
Sunak bowed to the pressure with a Thatcherite declaration at Westminster. He told MPs: “I am a Conservative, a Brexiteer and a Unionist, and any agreement that we reach needs to tick all three boxes.
“It needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in our union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses.”
Despite the apparent u-turn, former DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Sunak of using the “same tactics and same playbook” as the previous prime ministers in their approach. She fumed at the possibility of new checks on trade at ports in the north of Ireland. “They’re talking about green and red lanes but even the green lanes will still have some checks involved in them,” she declared.
There are fears among nationalists that the unionist agenda is setting the clock back.
“We can never allow a hard border in Ireland again,” said Sinn Fein MEP Órfhlaith Begley, as she posted a picture of the coffin of 23-year-old Aiden McAnespie as it was being carried past the British Army border checkpoint where he was murdered, 35 years ago this week.
Aontú party leader Peadar Tóibín denounced the DUP’s stance as “intolerable”.
“The DUP’s intransigence has never been about business or the economy. Its always been about whether the Protocol changed the North’s position in the Union. They have painted themselves into a corner and have allowed the TUV to direct them,” he said.
“Everyone hopes that agreement can be achieved. Everyone hopes the DUP will stop holding the democratic process to ransom. But if they don’t we must move on without them. The DUP cannot be allowed to hold the north to ransom anymore”.