Irish Backstop haunts Britain
Among lost assembly for BJP and burning of Paris during the holiday season, you might have missed the UK Brexit Drama. But it is one piece of important foreign news story we must know.
Leave the financial/Business implication aside, for the movement. Let us discuss purely political drama that unfolded due to Northern Ireland.
Irish Independence Movement:
Ireland becomes part of the British empire in 1601 when Gaelic Ireland was finally defeated at the battle of Kinsale. The modern Irish independence movement rose when the Home Rule League was formed in 1870.
Irish War of Independence:
Ireland was mostly Catholic, whereas neighbouring Britain was mostly Protestant. After the General Election of 1918, Sinn Fein won heavily in Ireland and prompted for its independence. The elected MPs from Ireland also refused to seat in British Parliament. It further escalated into Irish War of Independence 1919-1921. In 1920 “The Government of Ireland Act” was passed by dividing Ireland into North and South.
Partition of Ireland:
Finally, in 6th Dec 1921 known as Anglo-Irish Treaty, a peace treaty was signed. This treaty recognized Ireland as a free state but also allowed Northern Ireland to opt out of free-state and remain part of Britain. In the Government of Ireland, Act passed in 1920 by the British a year earlier Northern Ireland was identified as a separate entity.
The rift between North and South:
Since independence, North and South took a different path forward. North remained unionist and wanted to remain in the UK. The rest of Ireland passed the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, completely separating it from the UK. It replaced the Head of state position from English King/Queen to Irish President.
Good Friday Agreement:
As you can see from the brief history of Independence of Ireland, British deed what they always do, divide and rule. But this doesn’t go down well with Irish People who wanted United Ireland. They kept up the fight for United Ireland.
In 1998 Good Friday Agreement was signed, ending hostility. It recognized that the Republic of Ireland want United Ireland, while some section of Irish people wants to live as a citizen of UK’. The Good Friday Agreement ended the decades-long violence by offering open border and free movement of Goods and people. This wasn’t a problem because both Ireland and UK were part of EU.
British obviously wanted to control Ireland by keeping a part of it. And they were successful till now. But then Brexit happened. And the past ghost of Ireland came back again.
Ireland Joined EU in 1973 along with the UK. Back then it was called EEC. So when it came to opening the border at the time of Good Friday Agreement in 1998, It wasn’t a big deal. Entire Europe was opening up.
But When Brexit happened among all the issues that were discussed; one of the prominent issues was strict border controls. Post-Brexit racism faced by many migrants in the UK was a major concern for British society in general. The public in the UK wanted a hard border, like what Donald Trump describing in the US, a wall, bob wire, security patrol, customs check post and all.
As the UK is an island that doesn’t seem to be a problem. It is cut off from Europe. And that’s where the ‘Northern Ireland’ comes in.
The Brexit Deal of Theresa May has something called “Irish Back Stop”. It states that “During the transitory period the UK will be part of European Common Market and Customs Union, but at the end of the transitory period, Northern Ireland may need to follow EU rules and have open border while rest of UK will follow its own rule and have closed border.”
In 2017 Theresa May took the general election and failed miserably. She lost her majority in the lower house (house of commons). MPs of DUP from Northern Ireland supported her. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is hardcore Pro-UK party which feels Northern Ireland must be parts of UK like England or Wels.
So you can understand their frustration when only Northern Ireland was singled out in the Brexit Deal. Irish Back Stop was actually made as insurance if, Britain and EU failed to come to an agreement. But it wasn’t acceptable for Irish MPs. Theresa May lost 3 motions in one day including unprecedented Contempt of Parliament motion brought against her government. May’s government is first in British history to stand as contempt of Parliament. This made Theresa May very worried and she promptly deferred the Brexit Deal vote. But this still does not calm the sentiment down. While Theresa May was travelling through Europe seeking any straw to clutch at, MPs from her own conservative party brought No confidence motion against her government. Theresa May has to literally sacrifice herself by declaring that she will resign before next election. This was the promise which saved the day for her government.
But still, the issue is not solved. We are back to square one.
While DUP wants Hard Border like rest of UK, The Good Friday agreement recognizes Irish desire for United Ireland. If the UK accepts Back Stop, then DUP opposes it, and if it accepts Hard Border then the Republic of Ireland will oppose it. The UK also has commitments under Good Friday Agreement.
What’s more, the Back Stop provisions are very vaguely worded. And fear is that EU will still be able to impose its rule on the UK or at least in Northern Ireland even after Brexit. So Northern Ireland could be a separate entity for Legal and taxation purpose. While Theresa May wants a specific date for the end of Back Stop, Jean-Claude Juncker the European President said categorically that this is the only deal we offer to the UK.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out in near future, as UK and rest of the Europe clashes. This may end up breaking the UK. First Ireland might break away and next will be Scotland. We have to wait till March 2019 to find out.
Mumbaikar, Freelancer, political watcher, foreign politics enthusiast