Just like this country, Britain has made it clear it does not want to see a return of the hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
According to James Brokenshire, the new northern secretary appointed by Prime Minister Theresa May in her wide-sweeping and surprising cabinet reshuffle, the importance of his mission will be to go out and listen to what the community is saying. By doing so, as he stressed, he hopes to make a very “strong case” for Northern Ireland.
Not only does this give northerners a highly significant and welcome insight into the mindset of Britain’s representative in the North, it can also be interpreted as reflecting the prime minister’s views of the implications of Brexit regarding Ireland.
Spelling out his views on the issue in an RTÉ interview yesterday, the 48-year-old London MP, who campaigned on the remain side of the Brexit referendum, said he wants to chart a “positive new future” for Northern Ireland. That should give cause for hope to a majority of northerners that their voice will be heard after voting to remain part of Europe rather than leave the EU. It will have particular relevance for farmers who now face the worrying prospect of losing vital EU agricultural grants which farmers on both sides of the border have come to rely on so much.
To lose those grants would be devastating for northern farmers who will have to face the stark reality of competing with their counterparts in England, Scotland, and Wales for a decent share of a rapidly dwindling cake. Unlikely to get special treatment, the price of being consigned to the fringes of where power really lies is likely to hit them between the eyes like a bucket of freezing water on a frosty morning.
Ironically, considering that he was on the Remain side, Mr Brokenshire could yet have an opportunity to soften the implications of Britain’s democratic decision to walk away from the European club. So, unsurprisingly, he is in favour of maintaining Ireland’s common travel area and has promised to work towards that end. As he put it: “I recognise the really important benefits that we get from the movement of people but also the movement of goods, services, and trade and what that means for the economy”, underlining the joint government commitment to maintain the common travel area. He added they did not want to see a “return of those issues of the past.” Positive words indeed.
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