After three years of chaos and dramatics, the situation regarding Brexit is as confused as ever. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is adamant he will take the UK out of the European Union by whatever means he can devise.
If the December 12 election should by some chance return a Conservative majority then the probability is that Johnson will get his repackaged Theresa May deal through the Commons with devastating effects for our jobs, economy, and society.
While Brexit is complex and confusing, one of the core issues, indeed perhaps the core issue, in the negotiations, is the British border in our country. In 1998, after almost three decades of conflict, the Good Friday Agreement reached between the two governments and the northern parties, with the exception of the DUP brought political stability here. The GFA was based on parity of esteem, respecting both the Unionist and Nationalist cultures and political aspirations. It was a complex arrangement designed to end one-party supremacy and push the two sections of our society to work together in a power-sharing Assembly. The agreement reached included the ‘Principle of Consent’ which stated that the North of Ireland would remain part of the UK until such time as a majority of the people in concurrent referenda North and South wished otherwise. Should and when that happens, then the British and Irish governments are under “a binding obligation” to implement that decision.
The flaw in that position was the inclusion of a provision that it would be entirely at the discretion of a British Secretary of State as to when and if this criteria has been met. This provision, in my opinion, is biased in favour of the status quo as no British SoC would want to be the one to call a referendum that could lead to the dissolution of the Union between Britain and the North of Ireland.
While the GFA states that the people of the North, “can identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both” as well as hold British or Irish citizenship or both the reality, as demonstrated by the Emma DeSouza case is completely different. This has highlighted the British government’s a la carte approach to the Agreement where it insists that people in the North rather than entitled to choose between Irish or British nationality are actually dual citizens and therefore if one decides they only wish to identify as Irish must go through the cumbersome and expensive process of renouncing their British citizenship even though they don’t recognise themselves as British.
Therefore for reasons of citizenship and other human rights, as well as economic, social and membership of the EU reasons, it is imperative that we build such momentum for a Unity referendum that even a British SoS cannot deny the criteria have been met. This election provides the perfect opportunity not only to reject Brexit and the Tory/DUP austerity agenda, but also to send a powerful message to both governments that we demand the right to determine our own destiny by deciding which Union we wish to be part of – the UK or a United Ireland/European Union. A strong vote for Sinn Féin will send that message to both governments. The relative political stability that we have enjoyed over the past 21 years was greatly enhanced by the fact that both Britain and all of Ireland were part of the EU with the latter reinforcing its commitment to our Peace and Political processes by devoting significant resources to supporting them. Brexit could put all of this support at risk.
Before Boris Johnson gets carried away with the idea that Ireland will be the collateral damage of his political ambitions in England he would do well to remember the pledge from US Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi when she stated, in no uncertain terms, that there will be no trade deal between the US and UK if peace in Ireland is threatened. Regardless of what finally happens, it is crucial that the Good Friday Agreement is respected and the Irish peace process, which many consider a model for conflict resolution all over the world, be maintained.
It is difficult to predict what will happen in the coming months, but the question of Irish unity is now certainly on the agenda. Poll after poll shows the growing momentum in support of Irish Unity with even a majority of English Leavers and Remainers stating that they would willingly jettison the North if it is a choice between their preferred option or the break-up of the Union. A survey of British Conservative Party members also showed that they would be willing to see the North leave the UK if that meant Brexit could be achieved. Successive polls on this island have shown increasing support or Irish unity.
Sinn Féin is the only party taking these trends seriously and calling on the Irish government and other parties who claim they support Irish Unity to start planning for its inevitability. The UI conversation is firmly on the political agenda with Civic Nationalism increasingly taking the lead in its development. Successive economic studies carried out by reputable experts both here and internationally have demonstrated the viability and economic benefits of Irish unity. Presently the only obstruction to progressing the UI project is selfish, political, ideological opposition in both states on this island.
It is time to demand that planning for the only practical, long-term solution which is the removal of the British border in Ireland which is the root cause of all of our economic and political problems. Partition has failed – it’s time for Unity.