IT IS not only President Trump who wants to build a wall. The EU Commission has admitted that, in effect, it, too, might have to construct what amounts to a wall. In the absence of a deal, ‘I think is pretty obvious you will have a hard border’ between the UK and the EU, Margaritis Schinas, EU Commission chief spokesman, has opined. His conclusion was backed by Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, who has told the Irish parliament that without a deal Ireland ‘would have to protect the integrity of the single market and the UK would have to patrol its borders’.
So should we expect Barnier and Juncker to turn up in the border town of Crossmaglen armed with a hod, a trowel and a cement mixer – an EU version of McAlpine’s Fusiliers? Without at least some building work, there is zero possibility of creating a UK-EU hard border in Ireland.
Bricks, however, are unlikely to do the trick against the Armalite and Semtex with which they will be confronted by whatever version of how the Irish Republican Army decides to resume the ‘armed struggle’ for Irish unity. As a consequence of the Good Friday Agreement, neither the Brits nor the Irish on either side of the border are interested in a hard border. Who, then, is going to do the building work and the patrolling, if not the boys from Brussels?
The EU might, after all, find a purpose for its proposed EU army. Will it, though, have any more success than the British Army during the ‘troubles’ in controlling cross-border movement? Already, with the UK a member of the EU, we have hard borders in Ireland – miles of them! What is more, they are high, fortified barriers that are easily traversed only at a few regular crossing points. At sunset they are, mostly, closed.
These demarcation lines, a prominent feature in Belfast and some other Northern Irish cities, are euphemistically entitled ‘peace walls’. They might equally be called ‘anti-throat-slitting and anti-murder walls’, for that is why they were built. But ‘peace walls’ sounds so much better in PR terms than the reality. UK and EU politicians who fret about a ‘hard border’ in Ireland conveniently ignore the existing hard borders. They do not fit the Europhile narrative of unity, peace and reconciliation which is promoted so potently by Brussels and which saturates so much media coverage of the Brexit debate in the UK.
UK voters are supposed to believe that all is peace and harmony and prosperity in the EU. The PR machinery is in overdrive. Most recently it was the much-vaunted confirmation of the Paris-Berlin axis. ‘All is for the best in this best of all possible EU worlds’ was the message pumped out by most major news channels.
Meanwhile, a growing disintegration in Paris-Rome relations is but one example of UK ‘news’ coverage not mentioning the dark side of the EU. President Macron may present the face of Dr Jekyll to Angela Merkel but to Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, most popular politician and de facto leader, he appears more as Mr Hyde.
Salvini perceives Macron as treating the Italians as ‘lepers’, as a contagious disease.
The French president preaches immigration morality to Italy, but Salvini has denounced him for closing his own borders and both openly and covertly deporting immigrants, including children, back to Italy.
Such is the level of bad feeling between the French and Italian governments that Italian political leaders have invited French ‘yellow vest’ agitators to Rome to give training in the use of software helpful in organising and coordinating protest. Salvini has expressed his wish that Macron be rejected by the French electorate in May’s European elections. On his Facebook page, he wrote:
‘France has a bad government and a bad president of the Republic. Macron talks about reception but he rejects immigrants at the border. French people deserve better and they will be able to give a good signal to the Europeans on 26 May.’
His coalition partner, Luigi di Maio, has gone as far as blaming the influx of African migrants into Europe on French colonial and foreign policies which have impoverished and exploited parts of Africa: ‘In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy.’
The French government summoned the Italian ambassador in response.
So, our news channels report the entente cordiale between Macron and Merkel but ignore the bad blood between Macron and Salvini, just as they ignore the hard borders already existing in the UK when they discuss the UK-Irish border.
Parallel examples of breakdown are evident across the EU. This failing organisation has become increasingly reliant on the dark arts of spin and PR. As the realities emerge, the ‘unpopulists’ of Brussels will surely face a reckoning. We need to escape whilst we can. Whether it be hard borders or soft borders, Paris-Berlin or Paris-Rome, little is ever what it seems in the EU.