Boris Johnson is not only willing to risk peace in Northern Ireland – he's destroying a US trade deal too

On the 21st anniversary of the Omagh bombing, the prime minister's brinkmanship over a no-deal Brexit manages to be both morally indefensible and utterly stupid

Naomi Smith
Thursday 15 August 2019 11:13 BST
Boris Johnson: 'we believe in complete impartiality on Northern Ireland'

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


So much has changed in Northern Ireland in the last 21 years, and so much has not.

As a 17-year-old pupil at Methodist College Belfast – Methody, to those of you who know Belfast – I was fully immersed in what Northern Ireland had to offer, both the good and the bad.

My father’s job made him and our family a target of both sides. We became used to death threats on our answering machine, and checking our car for explosive devices was second nature.

But even that couldn’t prepare us for the appalling events of 15 August, 1998, the day that Omagh was bombed by the “Real IRA”, an event that would go down as the deadliest attack in the Troubles’ bloody history.

That attack left 29 people dead, 220 injured, and caused outrage around the world. The victims came from many backgrounds – Catholic, Protestant, unionist, nationalist, six children, a woman pregnant with twins, tourists … the list goes on.

Revulsion over the bombing spurred on the peace process and, these days, it’s easy to take for granted the relative calm that eventually settled on Northern Ireland.

But the threat of unrest has never gone away. This week, there have been petrol bomb attacks on police in Derry, amid an ongoing row over a march at the weekend, and there were violent clashes in the New Lodge area of Belfast last week.

Ulster’s peace, built on the historic Good Friday Agreement, is a fragile thing and, let there be no doubt, Boris Johnson’s Brexit blunderbuss is a genuine threat to that peace.

At Best For Britain, we have been clear that a disastrous no deal Brexit would cast that agreement in the bin, demonstrating utter contempt for the devastating effect Brexit could have on Northern Ireland – indeed, on both sides of the Irish border.

Johnson claims he wants to keep the Good Friday Agreement safe, yet his desire to push through a no-deal Brexit makes that impossible. What he fails to understand is that Brexit for Ireland means a potential return to regular sectarian conflict.

The course the prime minister is steering is dangerously undemocratic and divisive, one that threatens to destabilise the United Kingdom.

Risking Northern Ireland’s hard-won peace, in order to pursue his own career ambitions is unforgivable. Solutions years down the line won’t cut it: we have a deadline of 31 October this year.

If there was ever a reason to stop Brexit – and there are many – it is this: it is wrong, wrong, wrong to put lives at risk in an ill-advised cliff-edge exit from the EU.

It is morally indefensible and, in practical terms, risks locking Britain into a new cycle of uncertainty and bloodshed.

And let us not forget the impact on UK business of anything that damages the GFA. Donald Trump and John Bolton may be talking up a trade deal, but the truth is that a trade deal is not in their gift.

Congress, from Nancy Pelosi down, has made it abundantly clear that it will block any deal that puts the GFA and peace at risk.

So a no-deal Brexit not only runs the risk of a return to violence, but it would block trade negotiations with the US before they’ve even properly begun. Genius.

When it comes to Brexit, we cannot be naïve in thinking the so-called “special relationship” will help us. It has never been the unbreakable bond it is so often marketed as.

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Look to history: Ronald Reagan’s opposition to the Falklands War in 1982; our continued trade agreements with Fidel Castro following the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent embargoes imposed by the Kennedy regime.

In 1956, Eden and the Tories awoke one day after Suez to discover they were in isolation, shunned, betrayed even, by their closest ally and no longer able to command a seat at the table of the world’s superpowers.

The US will not save us out of kindness. Brexit is, as Best For Britain has warned repeatedly, bad news for the UK both locally and globally.

Naomi Smith is the CEO of Best For Britain, which is campaigning to keep Britain in the EU.

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