The violence in Northern Ireland highlights Boris Johnson’s dangerous Brexit miscalculations

Petrol bombs are thrown, and will continue to be, while unionists feel they are being separated from the rest of the UK, writes John Rentoul

Wednesday 07 April 2021 13:48 BST
Police officers take cover on the streets of Derry, Northern Ireland
Police officers take cover on the streets of Derry, Northern Ireland (PA)

Violence on the streets of Belfast, Derry, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey has several causes and one common theme. The immediate trigger seems to have been the decision not to charge Sinn Fein politicians, including Michelle O’Neill, the deputy first minister, who took part in a funeral procession in June last year for Bobby Storey, an IRA figure, that defied coronavirus restrictions.

Another cause may have been a recent police crackdown on criminal gangs linked to former loyalist paramilitaries. Those sparks fell on loyalist tinder that had already been dried by the disruption caused by the Brexit border in the Irish Sea.

The common theme is the perception among unionists that the constitutional balance in Northern Ireland has tilted against them. The dire warnings during the Brexit negotiations about the danger of a return to violence tended to focus on the republican side. The sacred status of the Good Friday Agreement was invoked as an argument against the horrors of a hard border between north and south, which would, we were told, provoke a violent republican response.

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