English nationalism is riding roughshod over the Good Friday Agreement

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Tuesday 15 December 2020 16:46 GMT
We are so consumed with the English Channel and how Brexit will affect England that we pay scant attention to Northern Ireland
We are so consumed with the English Channel and how Brexit will affect England that we pay scant attention to Northern Ireland (Getty Images)

Patrick Cockburn’s incisive and timely article ('Booming defiance towards Brussels hides the grim reality – English power is ebbing inside the British Isles’, 11 December) provides a missing part to a discussion we are avoiding in England.

We are so consumed with the English Channel and how Brexit will affect England that we pay scant attention to Northern Ireland. The dreadful era of the Troubles is fading from memory; English nationalism is riding roughshod over the many hours of patient and difficult negotiation that brought about the Good Friday Agreement.  

What are the consequences for Northern Ireland, deal or no deal? If there is a border in the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland effectively remains tied to the EU. The prime minister’s sleight of hand in dispensing with the “backstop” solves nothing.

How can Northern Ireland disentangle itself fully from the EU without checks across a land border? Brexit supporters have gone quiet about clever technology along the border, which (like Chris Grayling’s ferry fleet) does not exist.

When the dust has settled in 2021, will it be too late to repair the damage we may have inflicted on people, both sides of the border?

Chich Hewitt


Could pensions hold key to reversing climate change?

The launch of the energy white paper is a significant and positive step on the UK’s journey to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Now we need a radical new financing approach to avoid saturating the future tax payer.  

One option to fund “build back better” without increasing the long-term tax or debt burden is to create “net-zero pensions”.  

In return for a portion of our state pension, we could claim a new right: the provision of low-carbon energy and transport services throughout retirement. This approach links green recovery debt against future pension obligations and can resolve the twin challenges of a net-zero goal while also supporting our ageing population.

By reimagining economic and pension policy in this way, the UK can showcase an innovative solution to funding net zero, deliver new green jobs and solve the climate emergency. This radical approach can also be a centre-piece of Cop26 and help the world to deliver on the Paris Agreement.

The UK government is making great strides to deliver a green recovery, but the costs do not need to fall to the future tax payer. There is a more sustainable way.

Simon Daniel

CEO, Moixa, a company that develops intelligent battery products

Trade off

My boss has sovereignty over his business; he has complete authority over how his company is run. But while he would very much like all sales to be at the highest prices with the fewest terms allowed, he operates in the real world.

Every sale I make to a customer is, in effect, a negotiation, whereby I attempt to get the best for my employer while reaching a trade deal that satisfies the account. It’s called trading and it is why our division is called "Trade". It's a fact of life that negotiations with the larger accounts result in more concessions being given to reach an agreement.

I could quite easily stand on principle and refuse to bend but then I would end up having to make a big show to my people about the insignificant deals struck, while downplaying the larger ones missed. I would also be out of a job and, unlike some, don't have a large family trust fund to fall back on, or a fabulously wealthy wife or even a weekly newspaper column.

Steve Lawrence


The lack of progress in the negotiations is baffling. It is in the interest of both Britain and the EU to avoid a no-deal outcome, which would be followed by years of unfriendly clashes and declining mutual trade. Britain could have made several concessions not seriously damaging to our economic future (indeed quite to the contrary) to encourage a less hardline approach from the EU.

None of the three issues the government is obsessing about is worth lasting economic damage, particularly not just to appease a relatively small number of right-wing MPs, many of whose personal financial interests have nothing in common with the good of the nation as a whole.

As many have commented: firstly, full sovereignty is an illusion in a world of treaties and international obligations, which limit our total freedom of movement anyway; secondly, since the time of Thatcher, the UK has made far less use of state aid to support industry than some of our major European competitors, so why insist on our full right to do so now? We should try to understand the genuine fears of our friends in Europe about a “devil may care” UK undercutting them on price and standards in future.

As for fishing, one can think of several possible compromises. Personally, I would allow controlled EU access to UK fishing zones (they are going to be eating most of the catch anyway), subject to a complete ban on huge factory ships with mile-long trawling nets damaging fish stocks, other wild life, and the environment, which will serve no one’s interest in the long term.

Why on earth was David Frost given a peerage when he has proved so inept as a negotiator; or has he been totally fettered by his mandate?

Gavin Turner


We knew all along

In his otherwise interesting article ('Boris Johnson is about to bring back the worst deal in history – it takes a special kind of talent to do that’, 14 December), Sean O'Grady compares the downsides of a no-deal outcome and a bad deal. In concluding that both would be pretty bad, he blithely states: “Maybe we should have known that all along.”

Well, many of us did, but many others didn't bother finding out.

Martin Heaton


Better together

I wasn’t around a thousand years ago but I do know that my life has been improved immeasurably through the UK being a member of the EU. Michael Toner ('Leaving the EU without a trade deal is better than staying within the bloc’, 13 December) needs to clean his rose-tinted spectacles.

Beverly Mayle  


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