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Why the Northern Ireland border has been such a difficult issue

December 18th, 2018

I’ve just come across an article by John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former director of political operations, which explains very clearly why the Northern Ireland border is such an issue in the Brexit negotiations.

“.. there is no concession that can be given on the backstop or, as it should properly be considered, Northern Ireland. The fundamental problem here is not the intransigence of the Irish government not the trickery of the European Union. It is, put bluntly, because the UK is bound by a peace treaty – the Good Friday Agreement – which ended the 30 years warfare of the Troubles.

The agreement saved lives, and is still saving them, and it dealt with the border – the source of the conflict – in an extraordinary act of imagination. It dissolved it. Not merely within the operation of the EU Single Market but by the UK government repealing the act that partitioned the island of Ireland and by agreeing that the people of Northern Ireland could choose either a British or an Irish passport..”

For many this was all a long time ago but was and remains hugely significant. The agreement was signed in 1998 and most people under 40 have no recollection of the troubles and how they dominated British politics from the late 1960s onwards.

I well remember one of my first jobs as a journalist in Newcastle in the late 1960s being asked to visit the parents of the first British soldier to be killed in the province. A hard task for a 22 year old.

The Good Friday Agreement was massive development and both John Major and Tony Blair are rightly given a lot of the credit. It was approved in referendums on both sides of the border.

Mike Smithson