Johnson’s challenge: not triggering off a new round of troubles
In a post here last year I highlighted an article by John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former director of political operations, which sought to set out clearly why the Northern Ireland border has been such an issue in the Brexit negotiations. He wrote:
“.. there is no concession that can be given on the backstop or, as it should properly be considered, Northern Ireland. The fundamental problem here is not the intransigence of the Irish government not the trickery of the European Union. It is, put bluntly, because the UK is bound by a peace treaty – the Good Friday Agreement – which ended the 30 years warfare of the Troubles.
The agreement saved lives, and is still saving them, and it dealt with the border – the source of the conflict – in an extraordinary act of imagination. It dissolved it. Not merely within the operation of the EU Single Market but by the UK government repealing the act that partitioned the island of Ireland and by agreeing that the people of Northern Ireland could choose either a British or an Irish passport..”
For many this was all a long time ago but was and remains hugely significant. The agreement was signed in 1998 and most people under 40 have little awareness of the troubles and how they dominated British politics from the late 1960s onwards. It is hard to see how this agreement could have been reached if it had not been for both the UK and Ireland being members of he EU.
I still remember very clearly one of my first jobs as a journalist in Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 1960s being asked to contact the parents, who lived locally, of Gunner Curtis the first British soldier to be killed in the province. This was a hard task for a 22 year old. Many more deaths and atrocities were to follow and the “troubles” were the most dominant domestic story for three decades.
The Good Friday Agreement was a massive development for which both John Major and Tony Blair are rightly given a lot of the credit. It was approved in referendums on both sides of the border.
It is very hard to see how the United Kingdom can remain intact if the UK leaves the EU and who can predict what that will lead to? Remember that during the troubles there were ruthless loyalist community paramilitaries as well nationalist ones.