EVEN the most ardent supporter of Brexit must now realise and admit that the lengthy and painful process of leaving the EU has divided people living in the UK like never before. The fanciful promises of sunlit uplands and prosperity have been replaced by a sombre reality wherein Brexit has only delivered economic chaos and increased poverty to the most vulnerable, and it will go down in history as the worst example of economic, social and political self-harm visited on the UK by its own people, many of who were hoodwinked by the media and rabble-rousers and motivated by xenophobia rather than realpolitik.

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Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted to remain in the EU. However, Brexit has inflicted its worst excesses on the province. The leading Unionist party, the DUP, supported a hard Brexit to emphasise their cultural and traditional British credentials, presumably without a thought or heed for either the majority who voted against Brexit or for the social and economic welfare of the people of Northern Ireland. Just as they rejected the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, their chauvinistic mentality could not accept any attempt at compromise by the previous Prime Minister, Theresa May, and so they were left, naively and frankly unbelievably, to put their faith in Boris Johnson when he informed them that there would never be a border down the Irish Sea on his watch.

The fact that all available evidence told them that they were being given this guarantee by a serial liar and professional charlatan does not seem to have deterred them. Of course, the indolent and slothful Prime Minister had forgotten his assurance to them as soon as he had left the room, as is his wont, and they were left with a border down the Irish Sea as Northern Ireland remained in the single market. The DUP are loath to blame the British state for their dilemma and, like the UK media, the BBC and the Tory party, prefer to blame the EU for the Frankensteinian monster that the Northern Ireland Protocol has become.

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Northern Ireland’s First Minister in waiting, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, has invited the DUP and their representatives to join the Stormont government to address the many social and economic issues that the people of Northern Ireland are currently experiencing. Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, is refusing to join the assembly until the protocol is scrapped, despite the fact that any negotiations regarding this will have to be carried out by Westminster and EU representatives. In short, he is using his opposition to the protocol – which is shared by some in the province, but by no means all regardless of party affiliations – to try and short-circuit a Stormont that will be led by Sinn Fein. He is deliberately sabotaging a working government that can best address urgent issues in the NHS, education and the cost-of-living crisis to try and win a Pyrrhic victory for which there is no tangible solution.

All reasonable people in Northern Ireland would agree that the protocol requires reforms and compromises, but to scrap it may well lead to a trade war with the EU and become a real threat to stability and peace.

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The UK Government’s warning that they will unilaterally tear up major parts of the protocol and abandon international law may well be regarded as sabre-rattling to appease the DUP and its allies. However, the fact that the Foreign Secretary, the vacuous and fey Liz Truss, met with Unionist politicians last month should really set alarm bells ringing about the tactlessness and overt bias of Ms Truss and her right-wing Unionist government. No-one for a second believes that Westminster could tolerate a Sinn Fein government in the province but most realistic observers will agree that this Tory administration understands little and cares less about the complex history and Gordian knot that is Northern Ireland. Let’s hope that Johnson’s disunited kingdom, fuelled by an immoral Brexit, does not resurrect the ghost of the Troubles and all the pain and suffering they brought to the people of Northern Ireland.

Owen Kelly