Monday, 10 April 2023
GFA: we got by with a lot of help from our friends
Good Friday Agreement A major theme of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum was that the UK should "reclaim" its independence and become a Sovereign Power once more. Freed from the alleged shackles to the EU and behoven to no foreigners we should be able to rove around the world asserting our influence and increasing our prosperity. The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland, which we celebrate today, is a stark reminder that, not only were we then or are we now, a super-duper independent-acting world power, and, for that matter, neither is anyone else. In fact, we weren’t even capable, on our own, of sorting what was and is by world standards, a titchy little problem. The population Northern Ireland is barely 2 million (1 903 100 at the 2021 census if you want to be exact): a mere 3% or so of our population. That some of them were then and still are unhappy with their lot is, like Brexit, a self-inflicted wound. Or more precisely, also like Brexit, a Tory inflicted wound, because not once but three times the Tories torpedoed the attempts of Liberal governments to grant Home Rule to the whole island of Ireland. Indeed, the third time the patriotic "Land of Hope and Glory" Tories actually called upon the army to mutiny if the proposal were implemented. In the end the country was partitioned, a “fudge” unacceptable to “patriots” on both sides of the border. After years of violence, a sort of peace was restored with the Good Friday Agreement, not by the UK government acting alone with Irish government, but with discussions chaired by the United States Senator George Mitchell, and with the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in close touch on the telephone. I strongly suspect that the welcome rush to massage Prime Minister Johnson’s botched Northern Ireland Protocol into the slightly more acceptable Windsor Framework was motivated by anxiety to curry the favour of US President Biden and ensure his blessing on the anniversary with the visit with which we are to be honoured tomorrow. The purpose of this post is not to air resentment of the involvement of the US or to belittle the difficulty on the situation. It is to point out that most issues these days, be they boundary disputes, drugs, trade, safety standards, human rights, energy, pollution, education, health, sustainability, tourism or whatever, involve international co-operation. The Brexiteers' promise of a nation independent of the ties that bind us to others is a false prospectus. Just as “no man is an island,” neither is a country, even if it is physically surrounded by water.