This article appeared in Times of Malta
Why is anyone surprised? A battle has broken out between the EU and the UK government around the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. It is time to cut through the posturing on both sides and face reality.
Actually, there are two realities we must all face. The first is that the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was never about trade. It was always about identity, for which trading arrangements were no more than a proxy. The second is that there is no clean and perfect way to sort out the issues. If there were, then it would already have been found in years of painstaking negotiations. Something must give if any kind of peace is to be preserved in Northern Ireland.
It should not need to be said yet again that there are two communities in Northern Ireland – a unionist one and a republican one. The GFA allowed each community to feel that their own identity was being preserved. Seamless trading (and movement of people) both with Great Britain and with the Republic of Ireland allowed each community to feel that their identity had been preserved. The republican community could feel Irish, the unionist community could feel British. Consent by both communities for any changes was an integral part of the GFA.
Brexit has shattered that arrangement. It was a Humpty Dumpty moment. It cannot be put together again if everyone insists on perfection.
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Stephen Gwynne says
Perhaps our recollections are different but as I remember it, Remainer parliamentarians rejected a soft Brexit which would have facilitated frictionless trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Similarly, the EU could accept equivalence or mutual recognition. Instead its primary focus is capturing Northern Irish trade.
This EU revanchism is the primary driver of the brewing problems in Northern Ireland. Not Brexit whereby the rightful location of the customs border is across Ireland, not the Irish Sea.