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London Eye: Ireland returns to bite Britain

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London Eye: Ireland returns to bite Britain

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Inflation now officially above 9 percent has made daily living painful, the government has declared there are sharp limits to any alleviation it could offer. And now threats have emerged to the very existence of Britain as we know it — as a result of arrangements over Brexit.

London Eye: Ireland returns to bite Britain
Inflation running out of hand, and an internal — and international — political crisis building up fast over Northern Ireland out of control are so far the two certain outcomes Brexit has brought Britain.
Inflation now officially above 9 percent has made daily living painful, the government has declared there are sharp limits to any alleviation it could offer. And now threats have emerged to the very existence of Britain as we know it — as a result of arrangements over Brexit.
Irish history going back a century and more has returned to haunt Britain, now caught in a complex weave of the past. That weave had been settled more or less, or at the least set aside under the Good Friday agreement over Northern Ireland reached in 1998. Now it’s all coming apart again.
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The mess today is a consequence of the British being British in colonial times. That colonization included Ireland next door. Through that colonization of mainly Catholic Ireland, Britain settled a population of mostly Protestants in the northern Ulster province. That Protestant population opted to stay with Britain when Britain withdrew in 1921. Ulster then became Northern Ireland, a British province located on mainland Ireland.
The British have since then talked of democratic principles, summoning the existence of a Protestant majority within Ulster to justify Northern Ireland’s place as a part of Britain. Britain created suitable demography before it summoned democracy within that circle. Now Brexit has upset that.
Following Brexit trade could not continue as before, because into and through Ireland, a border arose between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that did not exist earlier when both Ireland and Britain were within the EU. As a part of the Brexit deal, Britain and the EU agreed on a Northern Ireland protocol under which goods from Britain would be checked at the Northern Ireland border, but with no further border for goods between Northern Ireland and mainland Ireland. A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be logistically challenging, and politically explosive.
The Northern Ireland protocol has proved inevitably messy over the movement of goods. As a compromise the EU offered suspension of checks on a number of goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain — if Britain would then accept new conditions on the movement of goods on into the Republic of Ireland, the EU that is. The UK did not accept the demand. That impasse has moved into the threat of dangerous disruption as a consequence of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections this year.
Assembly Elections
Those elections were held after the first minister of the Northern Ireland executive Paul Givan quit in protest over the Northern Ireland protocol three months back. Givan is from the Protestant-leaning Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which backs the union of Northern Ireland with Britain. But the elections that his resignation brought gave a majority to the Catholic-based Sinn Fein party which backs the integration of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.
This is the first time such a thing has happened since 1921, the first time that is that a party that favours union with the Republic of Ireland above a place for Northern Ireland as a part of Britain is in majority. But under the Good Friday agreement, a power-sharing agreement was worked out under which the first minister would work together with the second minister who would be from the other party.
Now would be a Catholic from Sinn Fenn, a party that has long, and militantly opposed Britain. The second minister would be from the DUP which has now refused to join such a power-sharing agreement.
If all that was not complex enough, British foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that Britain is pondering an abandonment of the Northern Ireland protocol altogether because it realises now that it’s threatening the existence of Britain with Northern Ireland as a part of it. The EU has warned that it will hit back if that protocol is abandoned.
Now the US has warned that it will not sign a free trade deal with Britain if it walks away from the Northern Ireland protocol. The immediate danger is a loss of credibility in Britain, whether it will stick to any agreement it signs. But the real danger is whether the past may now hit back to break up Britain.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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