The MP for North Down, Lady Hermon (the only pro-Remain voice within the Commons chamber from Northern Ireland) delivered a passionate speech today about the Good Friday Agreement and the process of leaving the European Union. There has been some focus on the encounter with Nigel Dodds but some other noteworthy exchanges are here;
Let me say ever so loudly and strongly to senior members of the Conservative party that I do not want to hear them or see them on television talking about pushing ahead and no deal—“Let’s just move on with no deal.” It is an absolute nonsense. It is so reckless and so dangerous. The Home Secretary stood here yesterday and made a statement about counter-terrorism. Dissident republicans are active. They are dangerous and ruthless—utterly ruthless. If I had a child or grandchild choosing a career—I have no grandchildren, by the way; I have two children, both of whom have chosen careers other than politics, sadly, because we need leadership in Northern Ireland and young people to come into politics—I would not encourage them to join the UK Border Force or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in the event of no-deal Brexit, because inevitably we will have a hard border.
It must be a moral responsibility and duty on this Government to take care of all personnel, all officials, in HMRC, in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and in the UK Border Force. It is all very well and good to have talked about “taking back control” of our borders—that was a catchy refrain during the EU referendum—but I never could, and still cannot all these months later, get any clarity on how exactly we proposed to take back control.
However, in the event of no deal, we would certainly face a hard border, and dissident republicans would regard Police Service of Northern Ireland and HMRC officers, and UK border officials, as legitimate targets. I do not want that on my conscience, and I do not believe for one moment that the Prime Minister or the Government want that either. I plead with senior Conservative party members to stop the nonsense of talking up no deal. The Home Secretary wisely described no deal as “unthinkable”, and it is. She may not be here, but I quote her anyway, because I agree with her and hold her in very high regard.
Why am I so committed to this issue? It is because half my life has been blighted by the troubles. I was not involved in politics when the Good Friday agreement was signed. I was not then a member of the Ulster Unionist party, of which David Trimble was leader. He and I had taught together in the law faculty of Queen’s University Belfast. If anybody cares to look, they will see that my specialism was EU law; that is another reason why I am so passionate about this subject. David Trimble, who was such a remarkable, courageous leader of the Ulster Unionist party, never quite liked or understood my interest in EU law, yet now he is in another place and is asked for his views on so much. He and I will never fall out, but we have always disagreed over the EU. My love for it continues.
I accept that Brexit will happen. We as the United Kingdom have to come out together, and the Prime Minister made that quite clear at Prime Minister’s questions today, but in doing so we cannot risk undermining all that has been gained through the Good Friday agreement—the lives that have been saved and the normality that we have had. That will carry on, but people in Northern Ireland are extremely nervous. There is one party, the Democratic Unionist party—and I am just describing, factually. DUP Members are colleagues and friends, though sometimes I wonder, given the tone of voice that they use towards me. Let us remember the history: a previous Conservative Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, caused such divisions, hurt, anger, rage and outrage in one part of the community in Northern Ireland—the republican nationalist community—and there was the way that the hunger strikes were handled. It is critical that the Conservative Government, who are supported by the DUP, bear in mind all the people of Northern Ireland, and that the DUP do not speak for or represent all of them.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs