Northern Ireland remains the focal point of the Brexit. The agreement that is now before the House of Commons seems indigestible for unionists, such as those in the port town of Larne. “Boris Johnson deserves a sacrifice on that big blonde head.”
This is the result of Boris Johnson’s Brussels deal with the European Union, for which he hopes to get approval from the Lower House this week. The British Prime Minister agreed in Brussels that after the British resignation, Northern Ireland belongs to the EU as much as to the UK. As the only British territory, Northern Ireland does follow rules of the internal market for trade in goods and agricultural products. Northern Ireland also remains the European customs policy and the general European rules for VAT shadows.
That is technical, detailed and it creates a complicated paper mill after the Brexit. But in Larne this is primarily a charged and emotional affair. In a sea container that has been turned into a snack bar, Roy Hinds (35) carries bags of bacon and bags of potato slices. “This deal is a sale of Northern Ireland as British territory,” says Hinds. A customer clearing a hamburger says: “Boris Johnson deserves a sacrifice on that big blond head of him.”
Look at a demographic map of Northern Ireland and you understand the problem. The areas on the border with Ireland are green. Most people live there who identify themselves as Irish. They usually have a Catholic background and, as nationalists, are active and latent supporters of Irish association.
Then the coast: there live mainly people who identify themselves as British. They usually have a Protestant background and, as a unionist, active or latent, are in favor of the closest possible relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.
It is the unionists who feel let down by Johnson. “It’s simple. The entire United Kingdom chose to participate in European integration forty years ago. Then we also have to leave together as a country, “says Hinds.
In recent Brexit years, Northern Ireland’s unionist interest in joining the UK was almost holy in London, for Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson. This certainty stems from political and ideological views. Since 2017, the Tories have been dependent on the support of the ten lower house members of the Democratic Unionist Party.
At the same time, the union of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) and Northern Ireland is a basic principle among the Conservatives, who are called the Conservative and Unionist Party. Allowing torment to link with Northern Ireland see many Tories as oxygen to Scotland’s new attempts to become independent.
According to May, a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was “a proposal that no British Prime Minister can accept”. At the DUP party congress in November last year, Johnson said that by separate trade rules, Northern Ireland would become “an EU quasi-colony.” “No British Conservative government can or will approve such agreements,” said Johnson, who was not a prime minister at the time.
Eleven months later, as prime minister, Johnson approved such agreements. Putting the customs border into the sea was the price he paid to conclude a negotiating agreement for Halloween, the current Brexit deadline, with which he can present himself decisively to British voters. That the Tories dropped the unionists after an alliance of more than two and a half years cannot be a surprise. Never trust a Tory is an old adage at the DUP.
Couldn’t the DUP see Johnson coming to throw the unionists for his beloved red double-decker bus? Could they not have agreed better on the deal in exchange for the Prime Minister’s commitments to invest billions in Northern Ireland, as May did to win their support?
Snack bar operator Hinds rubs the tattoos on his forearms.
“That does not matter. It’s not about money, “he says. For a moment he looks at the roundabout where trucks make slow turns, on their way to the boat, to Scotland. “I am not a fan of the DUP. They talk about faith too often. Still, I understand that Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds [party and party leaders, ed.] Kept their backs straight. They cannot agree with this agreement because it opens the door to a united Ireland. “
The deal allows Northern Ireland to eat well: it can benefit both the UK, the fourth largest economy in the world, and the EU, the world’s largest trading block.
Northern Irish companies can trade without hindrance – “frictionless”, in Brexit jargon – with the European internal market and export goods to the rest of the UK. That means that foreign companies may suddenly see Northern Ireland as an extremely attractive place to settle. From one location, they can cover two large markets without the hassle.