By Mark Buckley
The Tory government has been leading a campaign to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol, which they signed as part of the Treaty to exit the EU. As this would be a change to the constitutional status of the North not agreed by a majority of its political representatives, it would be flagrant breach of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and perhaps fatally undermine it.
Yet, despite the Labour Party laying claim to the GFA as one of its greatest modern achievements, Keir Starmer and his front bench are acting in concert with the Tories and threatening to undermine both peace and progress in Ireland.
SocialistAction has shown that the British government is encouraging Unionist intransigence on the Protocol, which is nothing more than an expression of the Unionist sectarian supremacism. The Unionists have taken to street violence reflecting their great fear that the rational next step is greater economic integration with the Irish Republic. This would spell the beginning of the end of the Orange supremacist statelet in the North.
The British government has encouraged the Loyalist violence. Recently Lord Frost, who is responsible for ongoing Brexit negotiations, travelled to Ireland where the only political representatives he met were from the Loyalist Communities Council, the Loyalist terrorist gangs’ PR front. The aim of the British government is to use a well-worn tactic; to provoke Loyalist violence as a lever for its own ends, ripping up the Protocol.
Now, shamefully, the Tory government has been joined in this project by Labour leader Keir Starmer. He recently argued that, “border controls are not the way forward.” Border checks are inevitable at the crossing point between any two different customs blocs. The effect of Starmer’s proposal is that the EU should give up on insisting on the integrity of the Single Market and allow a European smuggler’s charter on trade between Ireland and Britain.
It is the same proposal as Johnson’s. This is confirmed by Starmer’s suggestion that, “there should be more talks to remove the border checks”. This is clearly not a folly of Starmer’s, but appears to be the new, settled position of his front bench. The shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh has followed Starmer’s interventions, with the breath-taking claim that, “In times of instability in Northern Ireland, it has always been the role of the British government to show leadership and help find solutions.” She went on to call for “compromise, to ease the barriers down the Irish Sea”, the Frost demand that is the cause of the instability.
It is unclear whether this Labour leadership understands it is playing with fire. Arraigned against Boris Johnson are the EU, which has vital commercial interests at stake, the US President who has publicly rebuked Britain for undermining the GFA, and most importantly the people of Ireland, who overwhelmingly opposed Brexit and support the Protocol as the least damaging alternative.
Yet Starmer has decided to weigh in on Johnson’s side, presumably for the sake of consistency with his stance on every other reactionary Tory policy. Yet the motivation of the Labour leadership is less important than the clear responsibility of the British left, which is to oppose this reactionary manoeuvring, oppose the British government trampling on the democratic will of the people of Ireland, and to defend the Good Friday Agreement.