World UK PM's loose talk on Brexit reverberates in N.Ireland
Brexit Antagonism Escalates as EU, U.K. Go Another Round
When the U.K. and European Union shook hands on a trade deal late last year, few expected the new relationship to be plain sailing. And as with many divorces, antagonism between the sides has refused to fade. © Bloomberg Graffiti on a building reads "No Irish Sea border" in the Sandy Row area in Belfast, U.K., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. On Tuesday, U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove condemned the EU's threat to impose border checks on Northern Ireland, warning it had provoked anger on all sides of the political divide.
In the febrile build-up to Britain's Brexit deal with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there would only be a trade border down the Irish Sea "over my dead body".
A de-facto border does exist, however, and what one minister called Johnson's "fantasy" promises to pro-UK unionists in Northern Ireland are back in contention after the territory was convulsed this month by its worst violence in years.
In one incident, unionist rioters set a moving bus ablaze. A cartoon in The Times newspaper depicted protesters pelting a version of Johnson's infamous Brexit campaign bus with petrol bombs as he flees the driver's seat.
N Ireland sees 3rd night of unrest amid post-Brexit tensions
LONDON (AP) — Police and politicians in Northern Ireland appealed for calm on Monday after a third night of violence that saw Protestant youths start fires and pelt officers with bricks and gasoline bombs. The flareups come amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and worsening relations between the parties in the Protestant-Catholic power-sharing Belfast government. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said officers were attacked in Londonderry on Sunday night, and there was also unrest in two pro-British unionist areas near Belfast. Police said most of those involved were teenagers.
Before Friday's death of Prince Philip, the political scene in London was quiet with parliament on Easter recess, and the prime minister himself had little to say about the unrest.
Johnson released one tweet, on Wednesday, appealing for "dialogue, not violence or criminality". The next day, he dispatched Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis to Belfast for urgent talks with regional leaders.
Lewis admitted to unionist anger about the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement that seeks to balance the province's unique status as a constituent of the UK while also sharing a land border with EU member Ireland.
Northern Ireland riots: Bus torched in more Belfast violence as British and Irish leaders call for calm
Parts of Northern Ireland saw their sixth consecutive night of violence Wednesday as unionists and nationalists clashed with police and each other. © Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images Rioters clash at the Peace Gate at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface on April 7, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Unrest first broke out last week amid rising tensions relating to Brexit and unionist anger over a decision by police not to prosecute leaders of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein for allegedly breaking coronavirus restrictions during the funeral of a former leading IRA figure.
Katy Hayward, an expert on Brexit at Queen's University Belfast, said Johnson was paying the price now for intentionally playing down the protocol's significance before it took effect on January 1, in a bid to allay unionist suspicions.
"That had a certain number of consequences. There was a lack of business preparation for the new controls, and a lack of preparing the ground politically in Northern Ireland for what the protocol would mean," she told AFP.
"Rhetoric takes you so far, but there's a point when reality hits."
- 'Sunlit uplands' -
Despite Johnson's vows of no change after Brexit, the protocol does require checks on goods shipped across the Irish Sea from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, to prevent their entry into the EU's single market.
The EU insists Johnson was well aware of all it entailed when he signed up to it, and says it is up to Britain to fix resultant problems such as UK businesses refusing to ship goods across the sea because of the new red tape.
Dramatic Pictures and Videos Show Worst Unrest in Northern Ireland Since Good Friday Agreement
A bus was hijacked and set on fire in West Belfast on Wednesday as Northern Ireland has experienced a week of widespread unrest.A bus was hijacked and set on fire Wednesday in one of many instances of violence due to tensions mounting over Brexit and fueled by clashes between British protestant loyalist communities and Irish nationalist Catholics, according to the Associated Press, as they attacked each other and law enforcement.
Despite the EU's insistence that the protocol is here to stay, Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) wants it scrapped, and says Johnson is beginning to come round to her party's position.
But plenty argue that Johnson shares the blame for pushing through the protocol as part of a hardline Brexit -- backed by the DUP -- that brooked little compromise with the EU following his entry into Downing Street in July 2019.
Northern Irish justice minister Naomi Long, of the centrist Alliance Party, noted that Johnson and Lewis "denied the existence of borders, even as those borders were being erected".
At an emergency debate on the violence Thursday in the Northern Irish Assembly, she accused Johnson of peddling "fantasy" promises of "sunlit uplands" after Britain quit the EU.
Why Northern Ireland faces a surge of violence for ten days
© SIPA For more than a week, clashes multiply in Northern Ireland between Unionists, Republicans and Police. The entry into force of Brexit appears to have set firepower, in a region to be borne by thirty years of quasi-civil war. eleven days of clashes. The Northern Ireland is for eleven days the scene of clashes between loyalist and republican rioters and the police, a wave of violence that many consider to have seen for several years.
The protocol got around all sides' determination to prevent the return of a hard border on Ireland, which was eliminated under the Good Friday Agreement, signed 23 years ago on Saturday to end three decades of sectarian bloodshed.
Instead, checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Britain occur at ports of entry in Northern Ireland, away from the border.
- Give politics a chance -
Its real-world implications have fed a deeper sense of grievance at the perceived dilution of Northern Ireland's status in the UK, adding to existing sectarian tensions that have come to boiling point during months of lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic.
Foster's DUP says the immediate flashpoint was the recent decision of prosecutors not to take action against 24 nationalist Sinn Fein politicians for attending the funeral last year of a former nationalist leader, held despite pandemic restrictions.
John O'Dowd, a senior Sinn Fein lawmaker in the Northern Irish Assembly, insisted there was no justification for the fiery unrest following the prosecutors' decision.
"Let's not try and create excuses for criminal gangs that shouldn't be in existence 23 years after the Good Friday Agreement," he told BBC radio on Friday.
"There are political ways of dealing with the protocol," O'Dowd added.
London last month submitted an action plan to Brussels, seeking to iron out the ongoing problems of implementation. But first both sides have to get past Thursday next week.
That is the EU's deadline for a response to legal action imposed after London unilaterally extended by six months a post-Brexit grace period on agri-foods entering Northern Ireland.
European Commission spokesperson Daniel Ferrie said the EU stood "ready to find swift, pragmatic solutions", but both sides must honour the protocol.
What the Protests in Northern Ireland Could Mean for the Future of Its Peace .
What the Protests in Northern Ireland Could Mean for the Future of Its PeaceThe anger in Northern Ireland has many sources. Loyalists, who want to remain part of the U.K., want to know why, in a time of COVID restrictions, authorities pursued no prosecutions after crowds defied lockdown rules to gather for the recent funeral of a prominent member of the Irish Republican Army. A police crackdown on criminal gangs in loyalist neighborhoods has also pushed defiant young people into the streets.