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TCW’s Brexit Watch: No one wants a return to the Troubles – except the EU

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ONE has only to look at the contributing authors to John Longworth’s newly published report on the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU to know that The Australian Deal – Another Impossible Dream is a must-read. 

It sets out why, if there is no agreement with the EU, reverting to an ‘Australian Deal’ is not an option and why the only viable one is to reject the Withdrawal Agreement/Northern Ireland Protocol.

In good old plain English the authors tell us not to be taken in by Mr Johnson’s blithe words in the face of the trade talks collapsing and leaving without a deal: ‘I have concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.’

Well no, it’s not that simple, Prime Minister. Under such an exit, the UK would not be leaving ‘without a deal’, but rather with the baggage of the already ratified WA and its associated NIP.

Which is exactly why people like me who had to deal with Northern Ireland at the worst times of the Troubles – there’s a euphemism for tribal and religious warfare – regard Mrs May’s approach to the British voters as nothing less than shameful, indeed frankly despicable, because she set out to cheat us right from the start and encouraged her civil servants to do the same. 

As the report explains in clear language, the Withdrawal Agreement is an international treaty. Thus we are bound to respect its terms – even with Article 38 – unless we simply revoke it, and the best time to do that is before New Year’s Eve. One can argue that once Monsieur Barnier realised that Mrs May and her Remain faction in the Tory Party were willing to betray the people who voted to leave the EU, having pulled off the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU no longer needed a trade deal. Their trade surplus was safe, the gradual takeover of Northern Ireland was assured – thereby vindicating Martin Selmayr’s amputation strategy to weaken the UK – and that left only Scotland as a target. For the effect of the Withdrawal Agreement is to turn the clock back far beyond 1916 to before 1745. A foreign power once again meddles on the British mainland. I can remember the last time, when they did it with bombers, doodlebugs and rockets. When I hear Boris and Rishi saying they can afford to pay millions for people to visit pizza restaurants but they can’t afford proper armed forces, perhaps they need a reminder – as do some Scots – what open warfare is like in their own country.

Almost certainly the European Commission lawyers drew up most of the Withdrawal Agreement and its Northern Ireland passages. I can’t imagine that Boris Johnson, when Foreign Secretary, would have signed off a hold-up which doesn’t sound like advice from the FCO legal advisers. The parts on Northern Ireland are an obvious Trojan Horse designed to begin isolating Northern Ireland from Great Britain. 

This goes against the current of Anglo-Irish relations during my time as a diplomat including more than four years in North America.

My job once took me to Northern Ireland and the border. We had very good co-operation with the Republic and the border at first was still largely open. The hardening came later and proved very unpopular. 

All through the Troubles the British and Irish governments carried on business as usual between our countries; this included the Common Travel Area and the joint tax office. The only zone of rivalry was over inward investment, and competition was fierce though friendly.

After Bloody Sunday there was a three-day siege of our embassy through a riot in Merrion Square, the heart of Georgian Dublin. Around 20-30,000 people were involved, armed with explosives and petrol bombs. Some of the Gardai suffered broken bones defending the British Embassy from the mob.  

These were grim times with murders of our ambassador with his secretary, Lord Louis Mountbatten, his grandson and a local teenage boy, many soldiers and policemen as well as innocent men, women and children. At the worst there were 40-50 bombings and 80-100 shooting incidents a day. You could smell the tension. No one with any sense wants to go back to that bleak hatred. 

Except the European Union.

That’s why they were kept out of the peace process. As a part of the Good Friday Agreement the Irish Parliament voted to remove Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution which laid claim to the whole island. This recognised the legitimacy of Northern Ireland and was a crucial stride towards bringing peace. Enter Mr Varadkar with Monsieur Barnier and his German bosses, stumbling around the china shop in their jackboots.

A former commander of our forces in Northern Ireland once likened  province politics to a mobile hanging from the ceiling – touch it gently, otherwise it flies all over the place, instantly out of control.  

I never fail to be amazed by how sheltered and shuttered otherwise intelligent people can be when gazing at the blindingly obvious right under their noses. Can none of our Cabinet imagine the TV pictures should the EU Commission force the Republic to put up hard customs and immigration posts marking the European Union frontier along their side of the border while our side stays wide open for every man, woman, child, cow, dog and donkey on the island? Just think of the American television news pictures. TV crews will film on both sides of the border – that’s the story – bingo, global news. There will be dozens of camera teams. The European Union know they’ll be a laughing stock and also look rather nasty, bullies who poke their noses into ordinary people’s lives, who inconvenience mothers doing the school run among the country lanes – hence all their desperate ploys. Irish matters are big stories for the media all over North America; I ran the British Information Services there for four years. Believe me, during and just after a presidential election, there’ll be a lot of flak whizzing across the Atlantic. Whoever wins. 

A clean Brexit would stop such scheming in its tracks and have many other advantages, so why are we still taking the Withdrawal Agreement as anything other than a hostile act of diplomacy intended to punish the United Kingdom and drawn up by Germany’s Brexit team? As my old boss in Canada, John Wilson, Lord Moran, said when the Falklands were invaded: ‘One day, Adrian, someone will put a match to the Foreign Office.’ Maybe we should add the EU Commission’s fancy building in Brussels.

I have pointed out before that we know the French navy – a Nato ally – spent this summer escorting rubber boats loaded with illegal immigrants to within safe reach of East Sussex and Kent beaches. Macron’s government in effect colluded with a people-smuggling gang led by Iranians. We also know another Nato ally, Germany, pursues a strategy called political amputation against the UK by encouraging Dublin to make a grab for Northern Ireland and the Scottish Nationalists to separate – although one wonders how both intend to cover their potential national debts.

The strategic risk involved for the rest of the UK is deadly. For the first time in three hundred years we face a real danger that a hostile foreign power will be able to land unopposed and set up shop on the mainland of the British Isles. I suggest it’s time for our politicians to wake up and stop pussyfooting. Treat the Scottish Nationalists and the German-ruled EU bloc as what they are: treacherous subversives. In classical diplomacy, both attempts at amputation are hostile acts, barely short of open warfare.  

Both are perfectly adequate reasons to revoke the Withdrawal Agreement and keep our money. I have said it before and say it again: diplomacy has rules. Standards of courtesy are demanded even between hostile nations. We have not made an exception for Putin’s Russia nor the earlier Soviet Union. We should not make an exception either for Angela Merkel’s European Union.   

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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