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The UK-EU Clash Over Northern Ireland Will Have Grave Consequences
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Get your retaliation in first,” is a cynical old saying in Northern Irish politics that means you hit your opponent whenever you can without waiting for a provocation. It neatly captures the violent traditions of the province and explains why the political temperature there is always close to boiling over.

Imagine then the pleasure of those unionists who had always opposed the Northern Ireland Protocol, which places the new EU/UK commercial frontier between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, to find that they had been genuinely provoked by the European Commission. In a classic cock-up, but one with grave and lasting consequences, Brussels had briefly called for a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, something it had repeatedly told Britain was an anathema because it would endanger the Good Friday Agreement and open the road to communal violence.

Yet here was a glaring example of the EU selfishly backtracking on its own warnings and fecklessly reopening one of the most explosive issues in European politics, the culpable purpose of this being to stop vaccines capable of saving the lives of British pensioners from being exported from the EU to the UK.

The Commission was instantly struck by a hail of abuse for its folly and it promptly withdrew the proposal with embarrassment, but for almost the first time in four years the EU was on the back foot in its relationship with Britain. No wonder Michael Gove was openly gloating as he told the House of Commons that the European Commission’s action had been condemned by everybody from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the former prime minister of Finland. And there was indeed some innocent pleasure to be had in watching somebody as poised and ostensibly competent as the Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, get quite so much egg on her face.

She had presumably miscalculated or ignored, as have so many politicians before her, the extreme combustibility of Northern Irish politics, or failed to notice how far they had already been inflamed by the creation of an Irish Sea EU/UK commercial border at the start of this year. Such flames are not be easily put out, whatever calming noises may come from Brussels, London and Dublin.

Port officials in Belfast and Larne, who actually conduct the border checks, have stopped working on the grounds that they fear for their safety. A piece of graffiti has appeared on a wall in Larne reading: “All Border Post Staff are Targets.” For weeks, the media had been full of stories about frustrated Northern Irish businesses facing ruin because of the new border checks.

Ever since Boris Johnson openly betrayed the unionists and signed the Irish protocol, they have felt the ground shifting under their feet and, they found to their horror, apparently shifting inexorably towards a united Ireland. They complain that even the British Army was having to fill in EU forms to bring military equipment into the province (it turned out that they were doing so, though they did not have to under the terms of the Protocol). An element of “getting your retaliation in first” surfaces here since, under pressure from those even more hard line than themselves, the Democratic Unionist Party leadership which – along with Sinn Fein – heads the government in Northern Ireland, has switched its stance. Instead of reluctantly enforcing the Irish Protocol, it now opposes it.

One of DUP ministers, Edwin Poots, ordered the withdrawal of the port inspectors, though the police had told him that they did not believe the inspectors were under threat from loyalist paramilitaries. Poots claims the police did not have “a full understanding of the risks” – and in the long term he is probably right.

The bizarreness – and potential dangers – of the permanent crisis in Northern Ireland cannot be over-stated. By leaving the EU, Britain created a new UK/EU frontier the effect of which would be to the benefit of either the unionists/protestants or the nationalists/catholics. A repartitioning of Ireland by resurrecting a physical barrier along the 300-mile-long land border was never feasible, if only because it largely runs through nationalist/catholic majority areas where any new customs posts would be burned or wrecked as soon they were established. Now the unionist/protestant community is extending a similar veto over an “Irish Sea border”.

In other words, the frontier between Britain and the EU is a disputed no-man’s land where two communities struggle ceaselessly for dominance. This is something that will affect – and probably poison – future relations between London and Brussels for decades to come. Brexit automatically destabilised Northern Ireland and now Northern Ireland is going to destabilise Brexit Britain.

But the embattled province will not be the only friction point, only the one with greatest potential for violence. Boris Johnson won the general election of 2019 by claiming that he would “Get Brexit Done”, promising that relations between Britain and the EU would soon achieve a stable equilibrium. But that is precisely what is not happening. Instability is built into the Withdrawal Agreement, and the row over vaccines and the Irish Protocol is only a precursor to decades of friction.

Britain will be permanently in the position of negotiating and renegotiating access to the single market for its goods and services. It will, moreover, be negotiating from a position of weakness and will be continually forced to make concessions – as was so often the case during its negotiations to leave the EU. British fishermen, once the symbol of the benefits to come of enhanced British sovereignty, have become the first visible casualties of this new and unequal balance of power.


Remainers once fantasised about the day when Leavers would see the ruinous errors of their ways in exiting Britain’s largest market and lament their folly. But the exact opposite is likely to happen: the EU will in future fight for its 27 members’ interests with even less regard for the views of the British government and British public opinion than it did before.

A Brexiteer government and pro-Brexit media will inevitably respond by scapegoating Brussels for everything that goes wrong in Britain, accusing it of overbearing behaviour and unfair practices. They may even be right, but this will not do them any good, simply because the EU has the stronger hand of cards.

Just at the moment the government can say – though not too loudly – that the advantages of speedy national action, unobstructed by the restraints imposed by an unwieldy EU alliance, are exemplified by its swift development and rolling out of the coronavirus vaccine, but this type of success is unlikely to be often repeated.

On the contrary, the outlook is that Britain will remain obsessed by its relations with the EU – and that those relations will generate continuous friction. The economic relationship may begin to sort itself out in time, but at the cost of much bad political blood while Brexit turbo-charges Irish and Scottish separatism. The furore in Northern Ireland is not an atypical hangover from the past, but the first instalment of a permanent confrontation between Britain and the EU.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Brexit, Britain, EU, Northern Ireland 
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  1. German_reader says:

    somebody as poised and ostensibly competent as the Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen

    Is that irony or is Cockburn really stupid enough to have believed in von der Leyen’s competence? Her well-established reputation for incompetence actually was one of the reasons she got the job as commission president! The German political class is horrible anyway, and it’s exactly its most embarrassing members who routinely get sent to Brussels.
    As for the rest, sorry, but nobody on the continent really gives a shit about Ireland and its issues, and if you ever believed any differently you’ve just fallen for EU propaganda (“peace project” and all that). Have to say the extreme self-absorption of both Brexiteers and Remainers is pretty annoying. On the continent the issue is rather the EU’s failure to procure sufficient vaccines for its citizens, which will lead to tens of thousands (or more) of avoidable deaths, and the grotesque lies peddled by scum like von der Leyen and Merkel to excuse their failure. Or at least it should be the issue, the sycophantic media in Germany and France will of course do their best to cover it up.

    • Replies: @GeeBee
  2. Gordo says:

    On the contrary, the outlook is that Britain will remain obsessed by its relations with the EU

    The obsession appears to be yours.

    The EU is a house of cards.

  3. anon[370] • Disclaimer says:

    Here’s a thing I never understood. After the EU’s sadistic treatment of splittist Greece, why is the UK getting such ridiculous indulgent treatment? There’s a good-riddance element, perhaps, since the City of London has always been a US proxy, but the UK has been more inimical to EU peoples than any other member.

    At a time when the whole world is piling on the UK pariah state – ejection from the World Court bench, ICJ and ITLOS repudiation of British forcible population transfer from the Chagos Islands


    – to teach the UK a lesson the EU should, at the very least, use trade policy and continuity of obligations to break Northern Island off from Britain, leaving successor states with no P-5 status. We don’t need two irredeemable national assholes on the UNSC. Kick out the runt of the P-5 litter and the grown-ups can deal more effectively with the gravest US crimes.

  4. Anonymous[125] • Disclaimer says:

    I thought governments weren’t supposed to negotiate with terrorists or legitimise them in any way, why does this principle seem to go out the windows where Northern Ireland is concerned?

  5. @Anonymous

    The preponderance of evidence indicates that the political violence in Northern Ireland, and in the Republic, of the last fifty-odd years was a function of the Strategy of Tension that produced that Gladio false-flag terror attacks on the continent. According to Italian particpants in the Gladio terror program, British Special Branch agents were being trained as a part of that program, training and suport that came from both British and US intelligence.
    Active-duty US personnel participated in training IRA terrorists in Libya. CIA personnel were directly involved with Martin McGuinness, the late double-agent and “hero” of the peace process. There is also every indication that Gerry Adams was turned long ago and acted on behalf of the British state.

    • Replies: @Pheasant
  6. Poor Patrick. Always barking up some fu3ked tree. I have to wonder where all the desperate hate comes from. In his world the British always have to fail. He should be writing for The Guardian (Or does he already? I never read the thing).

  7. Pheasant says:
    @Rufus Clyde

    ‘The preponderance of evidence indicates that the political violence in Northern Ireland, and in the Republic, of the last fifty-odd years was a function of the Strategy of Tension that produced that Gladio false-flag terror attacks on the continent. ‘


    Look up General Frank Kitson. This charming Jew arranged for death squads on what were supposedly British streets. May of the loyalist murders committed right up to the late 1970s were actually British special forces gunning down innocent catholics who were British subjects. Former members of the military research force have boasted about this. Literal death squads headed by Kitson to make the communities hate each other.

    As for Libya see Edwin Wilson and all the former Vietnam era Green Berets training terrorist and drug smugglers there.

    • Agree: Alfred
    • Replies: @Rufus Clyde
  8. @Up the Gers!


    Its not Sinn Féin that will achieve a united Ireland, its unionist idiots of the DUP, no matter how many times they shoot themselves in the foot, they keep shooting

    Tiocfaidh ar la 🙂

  9. anon[372] • Disclaimer says:

    Grave. What a fuddy-duddy. This dust-up will return Britain to its former greatness!

    What’s white and flies over the sea??

    Those were the days.

  10. The luckless and unasked poor bloody British taxpayer pumps just under ten billion pounds (10,000,000,000 GBP) a year into Norn Iron and for what?

    For a fraction of the sum, Britain could have built and maintained the world’s finest research and teaching hospital.

  11. If Norn Iron sank without trace one dark and stormy night, hardly a soul in England, Scotland or Wales would shed a single tear.

    • Agree: Irish Savant, 36 ulster
    • Replies: @vox4non
  12. Fitzman says:

    Hmmmm….maybe because the Orange statelet is, and has always been, a terrorist entity. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, old chap.

  13. @Pheasant

    They were not all “former” Green Berets in Libya.

  14. Yawn.

    The E.U. hasn’t the slightest interest in preserving Europe for Europeans. In fact, they oppose it at every turn.
    The British government/establishment–even post Brexit–has zero interest in preserving Britain for Britons.
    The Irish government makes no effort to preserve Ireland for the Irish.

    Against that background all this chippy little border b.s. is meaningless and pathetic political theatre of absolutely no real consequence.

  15. vox4non says:

    The bloody unionists have been nothing but troublemakers from the start. They should all pack up and go back to ole England if they are so keen on Queen and country.

    • LOL: 36 ulster
    • Replies: @Expletive Deleted
  16. vox4non says:
    @Billy Corr

    If sodden England were to sink without trace, there would be celebrations in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

    • Replies: @Miha
  17. The best thing would be for Scotland to win its independence from England with a new referendum, rejoin the EU, and for Northern Ireland to then also break away but form a union with Scotland, putting it back in the EU. Several problems solved at once.

  18. Sean says:

    Brussels had briefly called for a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

    No, the border was between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, which ended up getting its way.

    Ever since Boris Johnson openly betrayed the unionists and signed the Irish protocol, they have felt the ground shifting under their feet and, they found to their horror, apparently shifting inexorably towards a united Ireland.

    Oh, I think that has long been the direction things were heading in. Educated Protestant families were leaving, and the demographics were slow but sure. However, that was accepted by the British governments, and did not damage the relationship with the South. Having Northern Ireland’s status altered in the South’s favour post Brexit by a vengeful EU is a very different kettle of fish.

    The Republic of Ireland did very well as a member of the EU, when it was the poorest country in western Europe, perhaps all of Europe. The Republic as a freeloader in the EU is now in the past. The subsidies are going to Eastern Europe and the tax shelter shenanigans are going to be looked askance at. Even if the EU allows the South to let Apple ECT dodge tax there, Britain is certainly under no obligation whatsoever to respect any EU decision. Consequently, Ireland is going to be a lot less attractive to international business, which the City of London has a lot of.

    The old relationship of the South has re emerged post Brexit as its most important and fragile. The UK has suffered a huge and humiliating defeat over Northern Ireland, but it will prove to be a pyrrhic victory for the Republic. I don’t think it will bring a united Ireland closer.

  19. Miha says:

    Yes but on the next morning after the party some reckoning will be needed :-

    The gap between what is raised in revenues and what is spent for people per head in the four regions of Britain is:

    Northern Ireland minus £4,978
    Wales minus £4,289
    Scotland minus £2,713
    England minus £68
    London plus £4,369

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  20. GeeBee says:

    In other words, the frontier between Britain and the EU is a disputed no-man’s land where two communities struggle ceaselessly for dominance.

    Cockburn writes as if he ignores the fact that by far the main border between Britain and the EU is at Folkestone. He is, of course, Irish, but appears to ignore the rest of Britain, which is used to hearing itself described as ‘that island off the coast of Europe’, as the French have always delighted in sneering. But if this is the case, then Ireland is that even smaller island off the coast of Britain. The Irish Republic’s population is under five million. The whole island of Ireland is undoubtedly a thorn in the side of the UK, but to claim, as the writer appears to do, that the Irish Republic forms ‘the frontier between Britain and the EU’ is just crass.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  21. GeeBee says:

    the issue is rather the EU’s failure to procure sufficient vaccines for its citizens, which will lead to tens of thousands (or more) of avoidable deaths,

    Oh really? I rather thought that the vaccines will ultimately account for far more deaths than this ersatz ‘flu strain that has quite unnecessarily turned the world upside down. It certainly seems to be the case so far, as Gilad Atzmon and others have suggested on this site in recent days.

    • Agree: Alfred
  22. neutral says:

    Both Ireland and UK are being overrun by third world hordes. Does anyone here believe that these new people give a damn about the impenetrable and pointless debates on who did what in Northern Ireland hundreds of years ago?

    The nationalists on both sides still going on with these petty debates are being total morons here, enough is enough.

  23. @Anonymous

    “why does this principle seem to go out the windows where Northern Ireland is concerned?”
    Just as a guess? Because all the terrorists were actually proxies (to some degree) for various “legitimate” governments ?

  24. @GeeBee

    It’s not often that I am an in complete agreement with you, Heebee. But you are totally correct.

  25. @Miha

    I would be grateful if you could give me a reference for this.

  26. @vox4non

    What, even the Scottish border tribes expelled by Stuart kings after 1609? Scotland was nominally a separate nation until 1707’s Act of Union.
    Of course, all the Tims in post-industrial Scotland would have to be population-transferred in the other direction. And no, Scotland won’t pay (can’t pay) their dole, unlike the present generous UK arrangement for both parties. Good luck!

  27. Steven80 says:

    I’m trying to understand why Ireland cannot unite – is it that the Northern Irelanders are being brainwashed for generations by English colonisation and state ideology and religion, and they don’t want to, or is something else? Sorry, I’m not from this region, I’m just curious what’s keeping it split between two states in the first place. The article suggests that the readers already know a lot about the conflict and the background, but most people outside of the UK don’t.

  28. @Steven80

    The story goes back and back, but let’s start in 1542, when King Henry the 8th of England became King of Ireland too. In 1801 King George the 3rd created the United Kingdom of Great Britain (that’s the big island: Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, and England) and Ireland (the whole island: northern and southern). In 1922 Ireland fought and won independence, but Northern Ireland stayed with the UK.

    Some say NI had a majority of Protestants, who thought the Catholic south might oppress them.

  29. @Steven80

    Like someone else may have written,does it really matter? In the UK, in the EU, united Ireland or not, as they’re all going full globalist and letting in the immigrants, who really couldn’t care less about the beef of these whites and know nothing about it.

  30. MarkU says:

    The Irish situation is actually quite simple. The Protestants are a majority in Northern Ireland but in a united Ireland they would be a minority. They have been aided and abetted by the UK government to ensure that Northern Ireland continues to be part of the UK. The Conservative party (officially the Conservative and Unionist Party) was particularly prominent in supporting the Ulster Unionists (the protestants) in return for their support in the UK parliament. Even quite recently Theresa May’s government was reliant on the Ulster Unionists to maintain her majority, something which considerably complicated the Brexit negotiations regarding the UK/EU border.

    In my opinion the Protestants have been mostly to blame for the troubles, open discrimination against the Catholic community was the norm a few decades ago. It was not unusual at that time to find job adverts followed by the letters CNNA (Catholics Need Not Apply)

    It seems quite likely that Ireland will be united again, whether in the EU or (ironically) as part of the UK. Times have changed and the younger generations in Ireland appear to be far more likely to let bygones be bygones. A united Ireland would considerably simplify the border issues between the UK and the EU.

    • Replies: @(((They))) Live
  31. @MarkU

    Ireland will NEVER join the UK, anyone in Ireland who proposed the idea would be laughed at, people would wonder about their mental health

  32. @Anonymous

    the terrorists wore the queen’s uniform.

  33. Rob McX says:

    Sinn Féin wants to unite Ireland for future generations of Africans. British governments are much the same with regard to Britain.

    Message to any white man in Western Europe: Your government is going to wipe out you and your kind if not stopped.

    • Replies: @PatriotPaddy
  34. @Rob McX

    There is something sinister afoot in Ireland, I recall reading that Cerebus (mythological three headed dog that guards the gates of hell), an equity firm with former VP Dan Quayle, was buying distressed properties from the banks at a discount following the financial crisis. I recently read the self-proclaimed “IrishMaven” blogger, who is not Irish at all, but rather an American named Laura Weinstein, write about Ireland being “too white”. Come again? Typical leftist American drivel – which shows the vacuous nature of their constant refrain in the States about “white privilege” and “systematic racism”, which are used to attack European-Americans. Anyone familiar with Irish history would never mistake the Irish experience as one benefiting from racial privilege.

    Why would Sinn Fein be for wide open immigration into Ireland? Curious when you think about the decades of struggle there, were they just kidding? Or have they been bought?

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