IN 2016 Brexit laid waste to the UK’s post-WW2 norms of doing politics. And took a wrecking ball to the Good Friday Agreement.
Brexit was the triumph of anti-truthism and nationalist fervour. Reasonable debate was defeated. Established and even legal norms could be sacrificed for Englishness. Promises regarding the NHS on the side of a bus were not the issue, as the decimation of the NHS since proves. What actually influenced the mandate were those big racist billboards and an appeal to a mythical England of the past. The firestorm to justify and enable Brexit since is little to do with Brexit itself but a fostering of that mentality.
All human rights norms are on a bonfire. Community is a dirty word. There is zero interest in international relations except through military lenses. Such is the power of this movement that the two big English parties, the Conservatives and Labour have eaten themselves alive and are barely recognisable to pre-Brexit days. There has been an extreme right-wing revolution in England, and Westminster is changed utterly.
Locally there was surprise in 2016 when the DUP supported Brexit late in the day, a move which clearly threatened peace agreement norms. Many of us didn’t see what that move meant. Brexit’s wake has seen the rise and promotion of an anti-truth narrative, harking back to an imaginary post-partition past of glory, while also playing contemporary victim and the promotion of extreme voices with no mandate. There has emerged an anti-Agreement unionist/loyalist movement which plays footsie with GFA supporters but has no commitment to its integrity.
This movement’s actors shiftshape at different points with the DUP’s electoral successes or lack of, influencing who dominates at different points.
The DUP’s collapse of the Assembly under the ruse of the Protocol is tied to the emergence of this extreme right-wing movement.
The collapse of the Assembly in 2017 due to the DUP’s lack of capacity to credibly share power was a very different dynamic to what is happening now. It is not two sides of the same coin. This is much more sinister.
Unionism is creating a new version of itself while the Assembly remains collapsed. This is a unionism which does not see itself bound to the Good Friday Agreement, human rights law, sharing power or even truthful reality. None of that matters. Developing the myth of a strong, if victimised, pro-union people is all that matters.
That the DUP shows absolutely no sign of wanting to genuinely share power, despite unprecedented economic pressure, tells us that they prefer this peace agreement no-man’s-land.
The Good Friday Agreement needs goodwill partners to thrive, or even survive. Strand One requires unionism’s biggest party at the table, but holding out for the DUP to enact the Agreement is potentially killing the Good Friday Agreement. Strand Three requires London to act as a peace agreement co-guarantor, however the dark clouds in England suggest that is desperately unlikely.
In recent times I have begun to wonder if we are in a post-Good Friday Agreement era. I write this hoping I am wrong and as a strong GFA advocate, but the wider environment has shifted so significantly I wonder if we can continue to ignore the foundational disruption where anti-politics populism and the extreme right have found fertile ground.