By Gwynne Dyer
Twenty-three years of peace in Northern Ireland, after a sectarian war that lasted thirty years and killed 3,700 people, but nothing lasts forever. Every night for the past week there were violent mobs of youngsters in the streets of Belfast attacking each other, Protestant against Catholic. And it’s all Boris Johnson’s fault.
The British prime minister didn’t mention it at the time, but his successful Brexit campaign to free the United Kingdom from the evil clutches of the European Union was only Phase One of his master plan. Phase Two is his plan to free England from the United Kingdom.
The English voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, but both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain. That gave Phase Two a head start, because Johnson and the Brexiters were effectively forcing both Northern Ireland and Scotland to choose between England and Europe. In both countries the answer may be ‘Europe’.
For Scotland, it’s a simple choice. As a nation of five million with no major historical traumas or enemies, the Scots would be welcome to rejoin the EU.
If the Scottish National Party wins a majority in Scotland’s May election, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon promises to hold a second independence referendum ‘in the first half of the next (Scottish) parliament’. Whatever happens, it would be an entirely peaceful process.
Not so for Northern Ireland, which was created exactly a century ago at the demand of the militant Protestant majority, while the rest of the island got its independence as the (mainly Catholic) Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland has been a running sore ever since, with the Catholic minority in the North yearning always for reunion with the Republic.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA), the main vehicle for those yearnings, waged a long armed struggle against the local Protestants and the British government, but the last round of the ‘Troubles’ ended in 1998 with the Good Friday peace agreement. Unfortunately, Brexit and Johnson have undone that deal.
The Good Friday deal enforced power-sharing between Protestant and Catholic political parties in the North and the border became invisible, with no checks at the crossings. Catholics in the North could even claim citizenship in the Republic if they wished.
Brexit upended all that. Now there had to be a hard border between the UK and the Republic, which wouldn’t dream of leaving the EU.
Putting the new customs and immigration controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic would probably start the IRA bombing and shooting again, so Johnson sold out the Protestants instead. He put the new border in the Irish Sea, between Britain and Northern Ireland – and to postpone a revolt against that border by ‘Loyalists’ (Northern Irish Protestants), he simply lied.
He declared that it wouldn’t really operate as a border. There would be no customs checks, no paperwork – and the poor mugs believed him. Now they have woken up to the truth. So the Loyalist militias are re-starting the war in the streets, attacking the Catholics in the hope of stopping a slide into the Republic.
Quite a lot of people could die before it’s over, but the slide is probably now unstoppable. Johnson will certainly not die in a ditch to stop it. Which leaves only Wales.
It’s hard to imagine Wales leaving 750 years after the English conquered it, but Boris Johnson is a universal solvent.
Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, is promising an independence referendum by 2026 if it wins next month’s election. Clean sweep for Boris?