From the moment the result of the referendum to leave the European Union was announced the EU and the local ‘Remain’ lobby, spearheaded by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party, tried to scupper the outcome of the vote and even campaigned for a second referendum to reverse the result.
Between them they determined that the vote was invalid because it had been secured by ‘British nationalists’ and racists, and that people did not know what they were voting for – effectively saying that Leave voters were stupid and questioning their right to vote at all.
Conveniently, this blinkered view of the result ignored the motives of the millions of Leave voters, many of whom had been pushed to the margins of society, who felt increasingly powerless and who were victims of economic inequalities and the centralisation of wealth in the greater London area.
Outside of Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the Remain motivation was, ironically, largely attributable to nationalisms, it was voters with low or no qualifications, and people with low incomes who rejected the EU project and voted to get out.
In the midst of the political posturing, the brinkmanship, the tensions between competing capitalist blocs, the political diversions and media smoke and mirrors, it is important that we remain focused on the principles of working-class unity and the efforts to construct a socialist alternative.
Years of EU wrangling later finally led to a leaving agreement that fell far short of the EU’s original plans. That does not mean that they will not stop trying to get their way.
Even the most ardent, or blinkered, EU fan cannot ignore the manner in which the EU has and continues to conduct its negotiations. It is a bully and continues to intimidate. Its unilateral block on Covid 19 vaccines coming into Northern Ireland in January is but one example.
The EU’s ambassador to the UK, insisting that the Protocol is the only show in town, is another.
The EU’s punishment
The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there. Their insistence that it remains is the EU’s punishment for having had the audacity to leave and is being used to exert political pressure by disrupting trade and frustrating everyday cooperation.
The violent reactions to the NI Protocol witnessed in recent weeks cannot be justified. Nor can the threat of future violence.
It was cowardly of the Loyalist Communities Council to recruit and then hide behind a 19-year-old spokesperson as they dangled the threat of further violent actions. Just as it was inexcusable of Leo Varadkar, and others, to dangle the threat of violence at the possibility of a land border.
If indeed goods brought into Northern Ireland potentially pose a risk or threat to the integrity of the EU single market, then those risks can be assessed and managed – just as they are at other EU land borders.
The disruption to trade and the political upheaval the Protocol is creating can be easily avoided by the EU acknowledging that the risks to single market goods is negligible and have the decency and integrity to withdraw its demands for land or sea borders, its threats of legal action and its resort to Article 16 at every turn.
That, of course, all assumes that the EU has any integrity or decency or that its Northern Ireland fan club will have the mettle to call it out, stop supporting its unacceptable and aggressive posturing and pull the rug out from underneath those whose response to every situation seems to be to throw petrol bombs at it.