100 days of Brexit: Countdown to crisis in Northern Ireland as peace goes up in flames

Editor: As we put this article out, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are in their homes, sickened and frightened by the violence unfolding on Belfast’s streets and by the news that young men are being called to get out and ‘earn their stripes’. We have just had a message from a 20 year old student, scared and suffering from an anxiety attack in her lodgings in Belfast. She will not be alone in her terror and dread. She doesn’t deserve this. None of them do.

Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit. It wanted to keep the peace and prosperity that have flowed from the Good Friday Agreement and membership of the EU. A fraudulent referendum, secured on the basis of lies – lies on which Johnson has consistently doubled down – has put their future to the flame. Shame on this government of liars and shame on the complicit media.

What can we do? We can write to our MPs and demand that we rejoin the single market and customs union and put an end to Brexit’s appalling impact on Northern Ireland and the GFA; demand some honesty and accountability.

We pay tribute to the peaceful people of Northern Ireland and tonight we weep with you for that hard-won peace burned at the altar of Brexit. We must stand with our fellow citizens and say “Enough. No more.”

Boris Johnson’s big red bus of lies was burnt by proxy last night, but as it did not happen in Westminster, you may not have heard about it. Northern Ireland has been on fire for six nights in a row now, but the coverage by the British press has been notable only for its invisibility. The vast majority of our press appears to be adhering to some sort of secret pact with the government to ignore the adverse effects of Brexit and pretend everything is fine and dandy, particularly where Northern Ireland is concerned.

Of course, the mainstream media does not hesitate to report on a crowd being provoked by heavy-handed policing into kicking off at an anti-Police, Crime, Sentencing and Crime (PCSC) Bill demonstration —although they tend to leave out any details about the provocation. Nothing that has happened at any of those anti PCSC Bill protests, ninety-nine per cent of which are perfectly peaceful, compares to what has been going on in Northern Ireland.

Citizen journalism will have to fill the void. This will be as close to a real-time feed of information as it comes in as we can make it, but first some background.

Timeline from the Troubles to Peace and back again, thanks to Brexit

20 JUN 1968: “The Troubles” began. A thirty-year period of violent conflict involving republican and loyalist paramilitaries, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British security forces, British armed forces and civil rights groups. Both the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary arm of Sinn Féin, and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), the paramilitary arm of the loyalists, existed before this date, although the latter was only set up in 1966. An independent loyalist paramilitary, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), was set up in the same year. However, the Troubles are said to have begun in 1968 because that was the year there were several organised protests against the discrimination Catholics and Irish Republicans were experiencing in employment and housing allocation.

1969: A year later, the situation had degenerated so far that the British Military were sent in to keep the peace. Everything escalated from then on. The violence occurred mostly in Northern Ireland, but occasionally spilled over into the Irish Republic, Britain and the Continent. Some 3,600 people were killed and more than 30,000 more were wounded over the course of nearly three decades of conflict.

10 APR 1998: The Belfast Agreement, nicknamed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) because it was signed on Good Friday, was the dawn of peace in Northern Ireland. Only the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed the GFA (and still do).

The EU was not involved in the negotiations, but the GFA itself makes reference to shared EU membership. It states that the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland wish “to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours, and as partners in the European Union.”

22 MAY 1998: 71.12% of votes cast were for ‘Yes’ in the referendum to approve the GFA. Turnout was 81.14%, meaning 58% of the electorate had voted ‘Yes’, only 23% had voted ‘No’ and the rest had spoiled their ballots or abstained. It was one of the most resounding mandates any British government had ever had.

Essentially, the EU became a guarantor of the GFA. To solidify peace, it provided funds for initiatives that fostered improved relations between the various communities of Northern Ireland through the PEACE programme.

Fast Forward…

18 NOV 2015: “Of all the scare stories propagated by EU supporters, the idea that the UK and Ireland would impose borders after 94 years is the silliest.” Daniel Hannan fired the first salvo in the debate on the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, and in particular the peace process —if debate it can be called, because what little there was of it was muted. The objective was to frame any discussion of the risk to Northern Ireland posed by Brexit as frivolous. Unfortunately for the cause of peace, Hannan succeeded in his underhand manoeuvre, and for this and many others, he now sits in the House of Lords.

25 MAY 2016: The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, consisting of Leavers and Remainers, issued a report. “Clearly negotiations cannot exclusively prioritise the interests of Northern Ireland to the detriment of other parts of the UK. But neither can UK-level interests be allowed to dominate the UK’s bargaining position at the expense of Northern Ireland.” Oh dear. If only successive Tory governments had taken any notice.

9 JUN 2016: Former foes Sir John Major and Tony Blair joined forces and travelled to Northern Ireland together where they warned that a vote to leave the EU would jeopardise the unity of the UK.

Their remarks were batted away by the VoteLeave campaign as “Project Fear”.

Fast forward…

27 FEB 2018: Johnson likened the Irish Border challenge to the capital’s congestion charge. He said it was a “very relevant comparison” because money was “invisibly” taken from people travelling between Camden and Westminster when he was London mayor.

28 FEB 2018: Theresa May rejected the EU’s proposal for a resolution to the backstop problem, i.e. only Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union. “The draft legal text the commission have published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, and no UK prime minster could ever agree to it,” she said.

14 NOV 2018: Theresa May’s draft EU Withdrawal Agreement (EUWA) was published, and everybody went ballistic. The Brexiters hated it because of the backstop, which would keep the UK in a customs union (not ‘the’, ‘a’) until a secure, non-peace-threatening way to manage a border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic could be found. They labelled it “Remain”. Remainers hated it because it was light years away from Remain. Indeed, it was a very hard Brexit. But Brexiter MPs are very sly when it comes to slamming that Overton window shut.

24 NOV 2018: Boris Johnson addressed the DUP annual conference and assured them no Tory government “could or should sign up to any such arrangement” that saw regulatory checks down the Irish sea. Johnson would go on to repeat this promise several times more, including during his campaign to become leader of the Tory Party in July 2019.

15 JAN 2019: Parliament voted down May’s EUWA with a majority of 230, the largest vote against a UK government in history.

28 JAN 2019: Sir Graham Brady proposed his amendment to Theresa May’s deal by which MPs would pass her deal if alternative arrangements could replace the backstop. Of course, there was absolutely no detail whatsoever as to what these alternative arrangements might be, but that’s Brexiters all over. Light on detail. Which is why nothing works…

29 JAN 2019: From the flames of the Brady Amendment emerged the Malthouse compromise, based on a protocol written by Steve Baker, to do away with the Northern Ireland backstop. Several weeks of silliness ensued. Many Tories hailed this as a way to bring Leavers and Remainers together, as erstwhile Remainer Nicky Morgan was on team ‘alternative arrangements’, but we later found out she had gone over to the dark side…and now she, too, sits in the House of Lords.

30 JAN 2019: Raab admitted to Lady Hermon at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that he had not read the 35-page GFA.

12 MAR 2019: Parliament voted down May’s EUWA with a majority of 149, the fourth largest vote against a UK government in history.

29 MAR 2019: Parliament voted down May’s EUWA with a majority of 58, and it spelled the end of May’s career as PM. It was just a matter of time until she resigned.

17 APR 2019: A leak from the Home Office revealed that technology for alternative arrangements would not exist until 2030 at the earliest. Oh dear. Kit Malthouse and his merry band of alternative arrangers had been caught with their pants down. How much did they know?

30 JUL 2019: Johnson resurrected the old canard about alternative arrangements. He does like to play whack-a-mole with his lies. The rest of us are less enchanted with zombie lies cropping up again.

9 SEP 2019: In a row with then NI Secretary Julian Smith, Cummings was heard to exclaim, “I don’t care if Northern Ireland falls in to the f***ing sea.” (Source: The Sun)

10 OCT 2019: Boris Johnson and the EU jointly announced that they had reached agreement on the EUWA, including an Irish Protocol which would replace the Irish Backstop Theresa May had negotiated. Meanwhile, The Telegraph had published an incendiary headline that day, “Northern Ireland is a burden on the rest of the UK. We cannot let it get in the way of Brexit.”

22 OCT 2019: Iain Duncan Smith said Boris Johnson’s EUWA didn’t need further debate, because it had had so much scrutiny already.

12 DEC 2019: Johnson went to the electorate with promises of an oven-ready deal and, due to the peculiarities of our electoral system, won an 80-seat majority on just 43% of the vote. He duly signed the EUWA on January 31st, 2020 and the UK formally left the EU and entered into a period of transition when it would be treated as a member of the single market and customs union until December 31st of that year.

The oven-ready deal contained an Irish Sea border

8 JAN 2020: The Scottish Parliament voted 92 to 29 to reject Boris Johnson’s EUWA. The only votes for it came from Conservative MSPs, voting with the Tory whip, rather than using their critical thinking skills, or respecting Scotland’s resounding vote to Remain in the 2016 referendum.

20 JAN 2020: Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly, followed Scotland’s lead and voted 47 to 38 against Boris Johnson’s EUWA, for fear that it would introduce a border in the Irish Sea. For once their vote respected the 56-44 vote to Remain in the 2016 referendum.

21 JAN 2020: The Welsh Senedd voted 35 to 15 against Boris Johnson’s EUWA. Wales narrowly voted Leave in 2016, but polls indicated that the electorate had since changed its mind, as more details of what Brexit would mean in reality began to seep out.

Normally the devolved assemblies and parliaments must give their consent before Westminster can legislate on issues that impact them. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay wrote to inform them that the UK Government remains committed to the principle of consent, except in this “singular” case.

3 AUG 2020: Iain Duncan Smith tweeted that there were details “buried in the small print, unnoticed by many.” He immediately got buried on Social Media, because he had advocated almost zero scrutiny of the withdrawal agreement, it uses the same sized font throughout and MPs are PAID out of the public purse to scrutinise laws and treaties.

As the date for the implementation of the Irish Sea Border approached, Johnson and his duplicitous cabal began a campaign of blaming the EU for the Irish Sea Border he had willingly signed up to. He told an audience in Northern Ireland that there would be no GB-NI customs formalities, and that if anybody gave them a form to fill in, to give him a call.

8 SEP 2020: Brandon Lewis informed Parliament that the government’s planned Internal Market’s Bill would enable the government to break international law in a “limited and specific way” by disapplying the Irish Protocol. In fact, on the face of the Bill, domestic law was also mentioned, so government was granting itself the power to break any law. The mainstream media did not pick up on this.

24 DEC 2020: Boris Johnson announced the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU to great fanfare. It is better than no deal, but not by much. Having repeated the lie that there would not be a border in the Irish Sea several times by now, he once again doubled down and promised “there will be no palisade of tariffs on January 1st, and there’ll be no non-tariff barriers to trade.”

1 JAN 2021: The first day of trading under Johnson’s TCA, except it was New Year’s Day, so everything was closed. Brexiters took the lack of problems as a sign that all was well. Too soon.

Johnson had given businesses a mere 7 days to prepare for the new Brexit reality. Normally for a change that big, especially where IT systems are involved, a company would require approximately two years to make the transition. Soon businesses who had been foolish enough to take Johnson’s assurances at face value found it impossible to operate across the NI-GB border. Supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland emptied.

13 JAN 2021: Boris Johnson threatened to invoke Article 16 of the Irish Protocol to disapply it in a speech to parliament.

30 JAN 2021: EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (UvdL) considered invoking Article 16 of the Irish Protocol in respect of exports of COVID19 vaccines only. Somebody in her team was trigger-happy and uploaded a copy of a statement suspending the article to the EU Commission website. It was taken down soon after, but not before an eagle-eyed journalist had noticed it. Despite the super-fast U-turn, there was universal condemnation and UvdL took a pummelling in the press, unlike Teflon Tory Boris Johnson.

2 FEB 2021: Northern Ireland temporarily suspended some customs inspections at ports due to threats of violence. Graffiti against the Irish Sea Border had begun to appear in the vicinity, some specifying that ports were targets.

3 FEB 2021: Boris Johnson threatened to invoke Article 16 of the Irish Protocol to disapply it in a speech to parliament. Get used to it. He will do this over and over again, but there will not be so much as a whimper from the supine British press.

4 MAR 2021: Loyalist paramilitaries, including Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commando, wrote to Boris Johnson temporarily withdrawing support for the GFA in protest at the Irish Sea Border. While they pledged peaceful and democratic forms of protest, they warned him not to underestimate the strength of feeling.

30 MAR 2021: Public prosecutors announced they would not charge 24 Sinn Fein politicians with breaking lockdown (after attending the funeral of former IRA Intelligence chief Bobby Storey in June 2020), despite a recommendation from the Police to do so.

1 APR 2021: all other Northern Ireland parties united to denounce Sinn Fein for causing immense hurt and undermining the Executive’s public health message.

2 APR 2021:

3 APR 2021:

4 APR 2021:

5 APR 2021:

6 APR 2021:

7 APR 2021:

8 April 2020:

Only with the burning of the bus did what is going on in Northern Ireland finally make mainstream British news…

Dedicated to a very brave young woman who is younger than the GFA is old.