A commentator on BBC Radio 4's 'Thought For The Day' slot recently lauded the notion of compromise: “Blessed are the compromisers” he said. (There is of course no such beatitude).
Undoubtedly the ability to compromise is an essential human life skill. And we in Northern Ireland are being asked to do a great deal of it in relation to the Windsor Framework. But how much compromising is being asked of people in Great Britain, or Ireland?
Can it be right to knowingly accept circumstances which would cast oneself, one's fellow citizens, and future generations into perpetual disempowerment and second class status?
This is what the Windsor Framework intends to do. This latest re-implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement's “Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland” (the Protocol), seeks to place me and my fellow Northern Ireland British citizens in a permanently disadvantaged place within our nation. Discriminated against for no other reason than living in Northern Ireland.
Let's suppose I try to buy from an organic garden supply business in Devon (which I used to do pre-Protocol). If I was refused service because I was of minority ethnic origin, you would rightly think that I had suffered racial discrimination. But if I'm refused service because, by dent of residing in Northern Ireland I must provide a phytosanitary certificate costing several hundred pounds, and fill out many screenfuls of time consuming data entry, is that not also discrimination?
In the first case the trader would be discriminating. But in the second instance the prejudicial behaviour is being forced on the trader by the state. The UK government intends – at the behest of the European Commission – to permanently minoritise people who live in Northern Ireland. To make it practically difficult, and in some instances impossible, to trade with others within one's own nation. The 'back of the bus' analogy put forward by some commentators may not be so far off the mark.
These affronts to the dignity of Northern Ireland UK citizens, the petty humiliations therewith, and the loss of private life rights clash with the virtuous intentions of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement. In 1998, when the hand of history famously touched upon Tony Blair's shoulder, both the British and Irish governments affirmed for Northern Ireland citizens “the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity”. Furthermore, they acknowledged that “it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”
Why has our government failed to preference the GFA over the desires of an unconcerned European Commission? Can you think of any other nation state that has erected an all encompassing trade border within its own territorial jurisdiction?
And finally, just because the Protocol was drawn up in 2019, and tweaked now in 2023, why should we assume that it is the only or best way to address the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland? Or allow it to persist as the controlling mechanism for relationships within the Union of the United Kingdom? Isn't it rather arrogant for Euro technocrats and Whitehall mandarins to assume that they've got it right and it won't be changed? Regardless of conflicting evidence, in spite of genuine concerned voices? That's not democracy and equal citizenship; that's domination and subjugation.