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Brexit – A European Punch and Judy show.

The British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's jibe likening the European Union to the Soviet Union is an example of the hyperbolic language used in the debate before the UK divorces the EU on 29 March 2019. At a press briefing in Brussels, the President of the European Council, Mr Tusk - the former prime minister of Poland - said: ‘Comparing the EU to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting. The Soviet Union was about prisons and gulags, borders and walls, violence against citizens and neighbours. The European Union is about freedom and human rights, prosperity and peace, life without fear, it is about democracy and pluralism - a continent without internal borders and walls’.

His strident defence of the EU reminded me of the time, a few years ago, we were staying in the Prague apartment of the granddaughter of an ambassador to Brussels during the Communist regime. Tresza told us that her father had outfitted the apartment in a 1970s western style during the communist period and begged, stole and borrowed to do so. Her father and his siblings stayed with their grandmother, as a means of ensuring that the ambassador would not remain on the western side of the the Iron Curtain. Their food was supplemented by a vegetable garden in the country, which included the house, given to them by the regime. Loyal supporters got such a reward, after their owners were imprisoned or otherwise. Her mother was a member of Vaclav Havel’s literary dissident group. Tersza was adamant that belonging to the western alliance was crucial to prevent the return of the days that Tusk referred to. Tersza also pointed out the fluid borders of Eastern Europe allowed an invading army easy access and such was history repeating itself with the recent Russian annexation of Crimea.


Today the Brexit battle is focused on the Northern Irish Border. Next year this border will be between an EU country and a non-EU one. A backstop solution has been suggested to allow an open frictionless border. The backstop will allow NI, staying in some sort of customs union. This is opposed by many conservative and unionist politicians, the UK, would be no more, they say. There is even the backstop to the backstop! How this will be achieved is the main stumbling block. Extending the transition period is a possibility, but little progress was made at a recent Brussels summit and the UK Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland Stephen Pound MP, likens the border problem to the riddle of the universe.


Theresa May, danced to the tune of Dancing Queen at her conference, many feel she is dancing to the DUP’s tune, as May is dependant on the minority party to stay in governmbloodent. Arlene Foster, the DUP’s leader thinks there will be ‘no deal’ and feels it may be better than a ‘dodgy’ deal. She has a red line - the UK exits the EU as one nation. She said ‘the red line is red. It is very red’. Sinn Fein declared in response,the DUP is losing the run of themselves’. The EU negotiators pledge to ‘de-dramatise’ the controversial process and take the emotion out of the debate and use more diplomatic langage. The DUP have warned they will ‘pull the plug’ and vote down the coming budget and will paralyse May’s domestic agenda if she undermines Northern Ireland's position within the UK, is this the ‘Orange Card’ again? The border issue is anastonishing confidence trick’ on the UK government according to Sammy Wilson, DUP. In the same Guardian report, Seamus Leheny, the director of policy for the Freight Transport Association, said Northern Ireland was “disproportionately disadvantaged” by Brexit but pointed out that while there were 800,000 freight trips between Northern Ireland and Britain, there were 4.6 million between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland every year. Foster said she could not accept any checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even if controls were far from the sea border. “Why would we need checks between GB and Northern Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and GB, if we were an integral part of the single market of the United Kingdom?”


Courtesy of the Guardian

How Brexit impacts on the Good Friday Agreement, is the major concern. Irish citizens in NI may be protected by EU law after Brexit but what of their fellow British citizens? In 2010, the Northern Ireland Chief Justice Declan Morgan said, ‘The rights and freedoms protected by the ECHR represent the values of democratic societies throughout Europe. It is the function of courts in our jurisdiction to ensure that those rights are protected and the corresponding duties enforced.’ NI comedian Patrick Kielty satirically tweeted his take on the Brexit effect of the Good Friday Agreement, the ‘devious magic’, he called it, a little fanciful compared to the measured tone of Morgan.


Brexiteer Boris Johnston suggested building a bridge between GB and NI, stating there was no difference between NI and the Republic, similar to a borough in London! Stephen Rea, the actor is scathing of Brexiteers, making a poetic film about a Hard Border. So what do the British people want? According to a survey, they would like access to the EU markets for trade, trade deals with other countries, and make their own laws. They worry about freedom of movement, and its demand on their public services . They like the Norway Model.


As a border child from the counties of Tyrone and Derry, I have seen the hard border, that no one wants again. I remember the salmon smuggling. The custom officers on both sides, my father’s smiling gestures and friendliness to be waved through, speedily. Or the bland submissiveness through the physical border of corrugated iron and sandbags and the pointed guns of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British army.







Perhaps it is time forreimagining’ the Irish border of old, the sectarian abuse in the North, the institutionalised abuse in the South, and the loss of so many innocent lives are still making an impact. In an RTE piece, writing over 45 years ago, Michael Sweetman stated in plain language what was required: ‘we (in the Republic) have got to go back to 1912 and relinquish a great deal of what has happened since, in order that both parts of the country can make a new start.’ He cited ‘consistent attempts to impose a narrow concept of Irishness, involving the primacy of Gaelic culture, the rejection of British strands in Irish traditions, and a particular view of history which made a virtue of fighting against Britain and a vice of defending British rule’. A renowned orator and others even suggest this is the beginning of the end of Northern Ireland.


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