By Mark Buckley
The rioting in parts of Belfast and in other Loyalist areas has become so prolonged and widespread that it cannot be ignored by the British media. Yet, when reporting become unavoidable the violence was pinned on Irish Republicans, the only political force consistently calling for calm and inclusive negotiations.
The media distortion is necessary because the rioting is a result of the Brexit outcome and the lies told to the Loyalists by the DUP and British government in general, and Boris Johnson in particular.
Boris Johnson and the DUP pursued the hardest of all Hard Brexits even as it become clear that the EU would never accept responsibility for a policed customs border running across Ireland. The only other possible outcome, and the only one acceptable to the EU, was that the necessary customs controls and checks take place between the whole of Ireland and Britain, just as they do now with continental Europe.
Boris Johnson repeatedly lied in claiming that these checks would not be necessary, and that he personally would oppose them if he became Prime Minister. In fact, his ambition was the sole priority, and customs checks, the truth and relative calm in Ireland were all expendable in pursuit of it.
To shield Johnson from the consequences of his Brexit and his own lies, the British media has turned to blaming the large open-air attendance of leading Republicans at the funeral of long-time activist Bobby Storey, which was in breach of lockdown rules. But it is farcical, if predictable, that Republicans have been blamed for Loyalist violence. This is especially so since the funeral took place at the end of June last year! In addition to misinforming the public, the effect is to encourage the Loyalists’ delusional sense of grievance.
There is real trade disruption from the complete failure of the British government to prepare for the Hard Brexit, and the uncooperative approach of many EU customs controls. But this applies equally in Dublin or in Birmingham. But the riots are not about shortages in the supermarkets.
In reality, once again the Unionist and Loyalist communities have been misled by their own parties and lied to so as to serve Tory Party ambitions. The sectarian and supremacist ideology of those communities is under threat from the closer trade relationship with the Irish Republic that is a consequence of a Hard Brexit.
The initial response of the British government is to side with the Loyalists, claiming that it shows the NI Protocol governing the new trade arrangements are unworkable. This is because the government shares the rioters’ ambition of ripping up the Protocol, even replacing the arch-reactionary Michael Gove because he refused to make a fool of himself by demanding the EU do just that.
However, the EU has no intention of accepting this demand now, especially when it would not do so to keep Britain in the EU. It appears too as if Biden will not accept anything that undermines the Good Friday Agreement. And no important political force in Ireland, not even the DUP leadership wants a hard, policed border in Ireland as this would hit their key base among farmers.
So, some sort of reckoning for Boris Johnson seems likely over the Brexit fiasco, at least as far it affects Ireland. Yet the Labour leadership is once again taking the wrong approach. It should not be parroting the Tories by suggesting the key priority is reassuring the Loyalists that Labour too will protect the Union.
Like the government, it should be spelling out very firmly that there is no realistic prospect of tearing up the Protocol, and the only sensible course is to try to make it work. Like the government, it risks becoming completely discredited internationally by pursuing a tripartite Tory-Unionist-Labour delusion.