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Paramilitaries, DUP and Tory right line up for a hard Brexit

5 March 2021

The temperature of events in the North of Ireland was raised sharply after an announcement by the paramilitary alliance, the Loyalist Communities Council, that they were withdrawing support from the Good Friday Agreement, stressing that unionist opposition to the protocol should remain "peaceful and democratic".

Loyalist paramilitaries have no history of peaceful and democratic action. The threat of loyalist sectarian violence is being posed. The formulation is meant to provide cover for the DUP and other unionist politicians who are now moving into lockstep with the loyalists. The political wing, the DUP,  have stepped outside legal restrictions to stop work on local inspection points and leader Arlene Foster has swung behind the revolt, snubbing Sinn Fein and the other political parties that share the administration.

What makes this of serious concern is that this is all an utterly automatic process.  The DUP right mobilise against their own leadership. The paramilitary cudgel is wheeled out with open threats of violence from leading DUP figures. The leadership scramble to get into line with those even further right.

Drawing the line further up the graph points towards sectarian violence and attacks on nationalists. What up to now has made that a low level threat is that the loyalists can achieve little without British support.

All that has now changed. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a far right Tory, last week issued a "stand back and stand by" message to unionism. He said: "I think Northern Ireland often gets overlooked in the union discussion, but Northern Ireland is part of my country and we should not forget that."

The linchpin of this campaign rests not with unionists but with the British government. Now the Tories have stepped up beside the DUP to ignore the legal restrictions of the Brexit agreement, with Lord Frost,  the government negotiator, unilaterally extending a grace period for the flow of goods. This is the second time that the British have threatened to ignore the treaty they signed. It may be yet another attempt to squeeze Europe.  If so Europe have responded immediately by indicating that, if the British do not stick to the terms, the agreement will not be ratified and will be replaced with a full- blown hard Brexit.

We may however be witnessing a "Texas Trump" gambit. There Republican policy led to a collapse of electricity and water services.  Instead of apologies, the governor doubled down by announcing a scrapping of all Covid-19 precautions.

In Britain Brexit is proving an economic disaster. There is a fall off in British-EU trade and in the flow of goods between Britain and Ireland. To hold even this level of trade the British are restricted in the amount of deregulation that they believe would transform them into a European Singapore.  There is a strong temptation on the right to play the Orange card alongside a declaration of UDI from Europe.

There are barriers to the scheme. The US have pressed hard to keep the Good Friday Agreement.  On the other hand there is no opposition.  Labour leader Keir Starmer's cunning plan to stay to the right of Boris has even his own supporters in despair.

An attempt to overthrow the Brexit deal would almost certainly collapse the northern executive and likely see sectarian attacks by loyalists.  Its success would lead to watchtowers along the Irish land border.

There is no opposition. Dublin minister Simon Coveney says the British are untrustworthy.  Who, with a knowledge of Irish history,  could have foreseen this? Sinn Fein say that DUP rebellion is a stunt, meaning that they don't have to react as the Northern Assembly is torn down around them. The vast majority of the small left groups are still all for Brexit or its Irexit counterpart.

A starting point would be to reject absolutely an exit from Europe based on reaction and racism and instead turn towards solidarity with working class struggles against capitalism across Europe. It's time also to end support for a northern settlement constantly subject to sabotage and frequently to armed threat by the DUP and its allies, challenges that are resolved by capitulation on the part of Sinn Fein.

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