Last Sunday I was interviewed from Salford for the BBC Sunday Politics Northern Ireland programme. There are specific concerns about the UK Government’s handling of Brexit for Northern Ireland that we don’t often consider in Great Britain, but it got me thinking.
Northern Ireland has a long and, at times, difficult history. The Belfast Agreement – more commonly referred to as the Good Friday Agreement, was the pivotal moment in their recent local history and is one of the hardest fought peace settlements of recent times which has maintained peace in the region for over 20 years.
Secured under the Labour government of Tony Blair in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement signalled an end to over thirty years of what became known as ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
When anyone speaks about these troubles, we in Greater Manchester are no strangers. We experienced first-hand what the troubles meant and what the fallout could be. Firstly, in 1993 the Warrington bomb attacks killed two boys and left many injured. This was quickly followed by the Manchester bomb in 1996 that decimated our city centre.
I was incredibly worried therefore to read reports over the weekend that the Prime Minister was considering amending the Good Friday Agreement to unblock the Brexit impasse, an impasse caused entirely by her, and her governments incompetence.
The report stated that a plan would supposedly be written into Mrs. May’s deal to assure Ireland the UK is committed to no hard border on the island as a whole. If true, this reckless and dangerous plan would threaten the very existence of the Good Friday Agreement, and throw into doubt the hard fought peace secured between all sides in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Given the violence which broke out again over the weekend in Northern Ireland, how can the Prime Minister even consider this dangerous and reckless approach?
What makes Mrs. May’s approach even more perilous is the fact that Northern Ireland has not had a functioning government since January 2017 when the deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed. Rather than facilitating an agreement to get government in Northern Ireland open again, Mrs. May is instead obsessed with pleasing her political partners, the DUP. While she continues to put party over country, there will be no agreement for a devolved assembly, which always leaves a risk of a return to hostility.
Despite the rancour and bitter division seen among MPs this past year, these proposals are quite unique in that they have been universally condemned from all corners of the House of Commons as dangerous and completely unworkable.
It’s not hard to see then, whether through the lens of today’s events, or a historical context, why the threat of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic looms so large.
Rather than risking it all on a deal that no one wants, and no one will vote for, Mrs. May should instead learn from history and reach out to political friend and foe alike in order to secure an agreement which has the backing of all sides, and will endure.
In an already fragile political and social situation, a complete collapse of the Good Friday Agreement could see a return to some of the darkest times in our collective nation’s history. Whatever your political affiliation, no one wants a return to ‘The Troubles’.