The EU’s insistence on a sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would mean a de facto reunification of Ireland, rekindling a bitter struggle between Republicans and Unionists that saw nearly four thousand killed, says Andre Walker.
At the outset of Brexit, all sides openly agreed there should be no border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but it now seems the Europeans were being sneaky when they made the pledge. It has now emerged they are keen to see a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, despite them being the same country.
Given most people are confused by the geography of the UK it is worth quickly recapping before I go any further. Great Britain is the largest of over six thousand British Isles, the second largest is Ireland. Great Britain is home to England, Scotland and Wales, while Ireland houses both the Republic and Northern Ireland. The other islands are mostly tiny and contained within the jurisdiction of whichever country they happen to be nearest to.
Under the 1922 Common Travel Area agreement, which predates the EU’s creation. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the UK can live and work in each other’s country. Citizens of both countries can cross the border without immigration documents and are not considered aliens when they arrive.
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, border guards were put in place to disrupt terrorist activity but ‘hard borders’ were abolished following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The agreement established partial self-rule in Northern Ireland whilst keeping it in the UK, it also guaranteed rights of both Ulster Scots (who consider themselves British) and Catholics (who consider themselves Irish).
This week a leaked document showed the European Commission might well be serious about its rumoured plans to demand a ‘hard border’ be created. So far it wants the Irish Sea to be the border, meaning that goods and people entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would face checks and perhaps even passport controls.
Worse still the EU’s reason for wanting this is because it wants to keep Northern Ireland subject to European Single Market rules. This means laws governing Northern Ireland would be made in Brussels, despite the territory having no representation there after Brexit.
One can only assume the interests of Northern Ireland would be looked after by the Republic of Ireland. Something that would rightly be seen as a partial annexation by the EU and the Irish Republic, of a territory that has a majority of citizens opposed to their control.
Some years ago, I went on a visit to Northern Ireland and met a group of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) prisoners in their heartland of Shankill Road. ‘Prisoner’ is a polite term for convicted terrorists released from prison in exchange for a ceasefire from the UVF under the Good Friday Agreement.
They told me in no uncertain terms that their commitment to the ceasefire and devolution in Northern Ireland was contingent on no moves being made to put them under the rule of the Republic. One even said to me he still had a Kalashnikov hidden, just in case the time came when he needed to fight to keep the North in the UK.
This is a volatile situation, with the Ulster-Scots afraid they might be ‘sold out’ and their territory handed to the Republic. If they perceive any threat to their position they would fight, and so the EU’s demands dramatically heighten the risks of war.
The British should respond by refusing any border even if that is a unilateral move. The UK could easily let the Republic build whatever border the EU wants but not respond by building one of its own. That way a clear message would be sent to everyone in Ireland that it is the EU who are putting peace at risk.
Recent problems in Catalonia have shown the EU will not act to preserve peace if it feels its interests are better served by violence.
The EU should not be allowed to put nearly 20 years of progress at risk over this petty land grab.