UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday was warned of a “dangerous political vacuum” in Northern Ireland unless his government shows urgency on rising tensions caused by the Brexit fallout.
In a joint letter signed by four former secretaries of state for Northern Ireland, a former chief constable and an ex-archbishop, Johnson was urged to step up to the growing crisis in the region and pay attention to the community concerns in order to prevent a repeat of its violent past.
“The lesson of the past 50 years or more in Northern Ireland is that if there is no forward movement, things do not stand still: they fall over. It is the responsibility of the UK government to ensure that does not happen because there is nothing more dangerous than a political vacuum,” the letter said.
“With our long collective experience, we are extremely worried that violent unrest on the streets of loyalist areas and at interfaces is a consequence of politics, both in Stormont and in Whitehall, failing the people of Northern Ireland. We stress that the peace process did not end with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement,” it added.
The signatories made clear that former prime ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major recognized the importance of the peace agreement and took personal responsibility in convening regular meetings with local communities and listening clearly to their concerns, something that Johnson should also be doing.
The letter also called on the government to acknowledge and address the damage on the Northern Ireland peace process caused by Brexit as well as the anxiety, fear and anger brought about by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the imposition of a border in the Irish sea.
“While the violence is unacceptable, the fact is that there are grievances, real and perceived, within the broader unionist community and that cannot be ignored by the UK government.
“There is a strong sense within loyalist and unionist communities that no-one is listening to them, and that nobody in authority in Whitehall has been honest with them about the consequences of Brexit.”
– Government failure
The recent communal violence in loyalist areas, according to the former ministers, reflected the failure and inability by senior government officials in London and Belfast to produce an effective solution that would be acceptable to all. Moreover, unless the government is made and seen to work, violence will only continue and increase.
The former secretaries who co-signed the letter were Peter Hain, Shaun Woodward, Peter Mandelson, and Paul Murphy. Former Conservative Party chairman Chris Patten, who led a commission on policing in the region, also signed the letter as well as Des Browne, a former minister in the Blair and Brown governments.
Intense rioting and community unrest between young Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans erupted in Northern Ireland earlier this month. The violence injured a number of police officers and is the worst in recent years. It prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity between London, Belfast and Dublin.
The main cause of the unrest is the Northern Ireland Protocol of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement that was signed by London and Brussels in December 2020. The protocol, however, was triggered last month after the EU required inspections of certain goods entering into the Single Market.
The protocol aims to avoid a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland which is a member of the EU but it also erects a trade barrier between the region and Great Britain which unionists say is an affront to their rights and threatens the break-up of its union with the rest of the UK.
Source: Anadolu Agency