Trimble warns that Irish Brexit stance risks antagonising loyalist paramilitaries
David Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist leader and the first First Minister of Northern Ireland, has warned that the Irish Government’s Brexit strategy risks provoking loyalist paramilitaries.
As he and other politicians gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, his warning comes in the same week that Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Fein, told the Irish Times that he still believed violence was a legitimate way of pursuing political aims.
According to the Guardian Trimble, now a Conservative peer, argued that Dublin risks undermining the principle of consent underlying the Belfast Agreement if it insists on ‘special status’ for the province – I have written previously about how both Irish ministers and British Remainers are each seriously exaggerating the terms of the Agreement to try to invent some kind of entitlement to a frictionless border which it does not contain.
Trimble further claims that some Irish officials in Brussels are comparing the situation in Northern Ireland to that of Hong Kong and explicitly drawing parallels with the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ approach used there.
This week Robin Swann, his latest successor as UUP leader, warned that Brexit could not be ‘exploited’ to deliver a united Ireland. He also told his party conference that the current ‘backstop’ arrangements for handling Northern Ireland – which are contested but claimed by some to mean full alignment with EU rules – are “unacceptable to unionists”.
Both also received unexpected support from Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Trade Secretary, who was reported as saying that the threat to the peace process posed by a border was being ‘played up’ by interested parties. He has since recanted his heresy.
Wallace attacks SNP for silencing ‘British values’
Ben Wallace, the Security Minister, has branded “shameful” the Scottish Government’s warning to teachers to avoid the phrase ‘British values’ on the grounds that it might be offensive.
He accused both the administration and Education Scotland, its quango, as “putting PC politics before children’s safety” after they published advice critical of the Government’s anti-extremism ‘Prevent’ strategy, which defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”.
The advice claimed that it could “play i’nto the hands of groups who seek to assert that there is an inherent conflict between being British and being Muslim”, although this claim is rejected by both Muslim leaders and terrorism experts.
Geldof says 1916 Easter Rising was a ‘mistake’
Had to check this one wasn’t one I’d missed from April 1st: apparently Bob Geldof told RTÉ Radio 1 (the Irish BBC) that the 1916 rebellion was responsible for a loss of freedoms on the part of Irish people and claimed the country was better off as part of the Union.
The singer pointed out, rightly, that the Rising did not enjoy serious popular support at the time, a fact which only changed after the British made “the ridiculous, stupid military mistake, as opposed to political mistake, of shooting” the ringleaders.
Geldof has form on the Union: he previously distinguished himself during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum by delivering the stand-out speech to the unionist rally in Trafalgar Square on the week of the poll.
SNP woes deepen as divisions over independence open
Another one for the late April Fools pile: Pete Wishart, the bellicose SNP MP, has suddenly discovered that the independence movement has a problem with cybernats!
This revelation came to him after he authored an article warning against rushing into ‘indyref2’, on the grounds that the separatists would probably lose it. Wishart held his own seat of Perth and North Perthshire by just 21 votes over Ruth Davidson’s resurgent Conservatives in last year’s general election.
His warning comes as Jim Sillars admits that ‘Yes’ supporters are “turning in on themselves” and the SNP’s poll ratings slipped to just an eight point lead over the Tories amidst a widespread lack of enthusiasm for re-opening the constitutional question.
As Alex Massie pointed out in this week’s Times, the Nationalists are in a bind: they need to dangle the prospect of independence in front of their activists to keep them motivated, but there are only so many times any army will stand to be marched up and down the same hill before mutiny takes hold.
Welsh protests over new name for bridge
A small protest took place in Cardiff this week over the decision to rename the Second Severn Crossing after the Prince of Wales to celebrate his 70th birthday, according to Wales Online.
The announcement by Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, was met with anger in some quarters as there had been no public consultation over the change.
Suffice to say that the protests were organised by nationalists – apparently there were Catalan flags present – who argue that it should be up to the people of Wales to choose the name. Why a bridge between two places should be named by only one place isn’t obvious, and according to another article the Welsh Government was informed and raised no objections.