What would these consequences be? For Northern Ireland, according to Sefcovic, it would lead to “instability and unpredictability”, and be “serious also for the EU-UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution” to the protocol’s implementation. Brussels would then be forced to suspend the wider Brexit deal, launching a trade war that would devastate large sections of British business.
Apart from the fact that this would entail a month’s notice and allow for another year of negotiations, and that a trade war would crucify the Republic of Ireland, whose present taoiseach, Micheál Martin, is desperate for a sensible compromise, what’s happening in Northern Ireland is very worrying. Sefcovic’s feared “instability and unpredictability” is beginning to manifest itself on some streets in Protestant areas. The appeasement of those who want to destroy Northern Ireland by putting a border in the Irish Sea has taught loyalists, yet again, that violence pays.
The EU weaponised fears of sectarian violence, with the help of the complaisant Irish government of Leo Varadkar. He convinced international opinion that a land border would jeopardise the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. This was nonsense, as Lord Trimble, its unionist architect, pointed out vainly. As Lord Frost said in his foreword to a fascinating analysis by Roderick Crawford for Policy Exchange, the North-South dimensions of the Agreement were prioritised at the expense of those of East-West.
The British negotiating team, writes Frost, “drifted into accepting the EU’s view that the only way to ensure no ‘hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls’ was for the laws on either side of the border to be identical. This ignored the fact that there already was, and is, an international border, an open one, with different currency systems, laws, taxation, and many trading rules on either side”.
The EU pooh-poohed proposals for technological methods of making new border requirements invisible, and the upshot was that in 2019 the only way the new team could make Brexit happen was to agree a sea border. Sinn Féin, beating its United Ireland drum, used this to make many unionists believe their status in the United Kingdom was under threat.
Last week saw sectarian rioting in Belfast. Protestant children attacked police, and in the small town of Newtownards, about 10 miles east of Belfast, armed men calling themselves the Protestant Action Force – a cover name for the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force – hijacked and set fire to a bus.
A vast new wall sign shows two armed men in balaclavas with the legend: “THE PREVENTION OF THE EROSION OF OUR IDENTITY IS NOW OUR PRIORITY. EAST BELFAST BATTALION.” It’s an improvement on “KILL ALL TAIGS”, but the message is nonetheless alarming.
Insecurity has been exacerbated by a National Audit Office report into Brexit that shows exports from the Republic to Northern Ireland jumping by 47 per cent since the Protocol was implemented, while trade the other way rose by 61 per cent. In the view of Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, the most hardline of the four unionist parties, “That is a manifestation of the building of the all-Ireland economy… a vehicle to deliver an all-Ireland politically.” The EU, he said, “built itself” – through economic union. “It’s the same strategy to try and deliver a united Ireland – to build an economic union on the island of Ireland and from that it’s a short step to political union.”
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP said that the EU “ought to recognise that the protocol and its Irish Sea border is causing economic harm and undermining stability in Northern Ireland”. He’s right. Article 16 is a mechanism to be used if the treaty isn’t working, which it clearly isn’t – and nor will it until the EU accepts that instead of defending the status quo they are damaging it by further alienating the Northern Irish people. The real “nuclear option” would be persisting with this present state of affairs.