My knowledge of the Vauxhall constituency is typical of that of someone who only visits London infrequently. From what I understand, it is just across the big bridge from Westminster and is home to both that awful Communist-looking theatre complex on the South Bank and the much more appealing Imperial War Museum.
Its links to Northern Ireland are tenuous. It was surprising then that the General Council of the local Constituency Labour Party, to which every elected representative in the constituency belongs, recently voted to censure their MP over fairly brief, yet well-informed, comments she made concerning the Belfast Agreement.
What do the members of the Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party know about Northern Ireland? Certainly not as much as their MP.
If you thought the peculiar lack of self-awareness demonstrated in this case was a one-off and merely emblematic of the general state of internal Labour party politics then you would be sadly mistaken.
On the contrary, there is an increasing tendency amongst English remainers to consider themselves better informed than people who live here.
Take, for example, the self-righteous rage meted out to David Trimble on Wednesday. Having again made a reasonable argument – that border infrastructure was not necessary and that discussions about a return to violence were irresponsible – he was pilloried. One tweeter even went as far to label him an ‘ingrate’.
The Belfast Agreement – peace and blessings be upon it – has now been elevated to such a level that its original architects are not even trusted with its legacy. Even if they won a Nobel Peace Prize for it.
Trimble made his comments in the foreword to a report from Policy Exchange which argues that a free trade deal – the preferred relationship with the European Union of every serious Brexiteer – is the only relationship that will both respect the referendum result and deliver a seamless border. The logic is sound. Only the framework allowed by an FTA overcomes the core issue – trade.
Far from the increasingly insane rhetoric of continuity remain and the world’s most half-hearted nationalists to keep us in the EU via the Customs Union there lies actual facts.
Northern Ireland is very unlikely to suffer any economic impact from the imposition of any trade barrier along the border. If you listened to our media, and many of our politicians, you would assume that North-South trade is in some way significant or in any way important. That’s not the reality. An InterTrade Ireland report claims that Northern Ireland exports to the Republic would fall by 11% in the absence of a deal. That’s 11% of 5% of Northern Ireland’s total exports. It’s mostly milk.
The Beast from the East had a more noticeable economic impact than the immediate impact of Brexit ever could.
1.6% of the Republic’s exports come here, underscoring just how insignificant cross border trade is. 16% of Irish exports go to Great Britain though, with 80% of their exports travelling via British roads. No deal, which can only be brought about by the Irish veto, would damage their economy to the tune of 7.7%, according to one report. We would barely notice a thing.
In terms of priorities, protecting the three quarters of NI exports that go to the rest of the UK is far more important than any piffling single market or customs union. A huge Mexican-style border wall wouldn’t do anywhere near the amount of damage as the backstop solution which the Government stupidly agreed to.
So far, the Government has effectively allowed itself to be blindsided by Varadkar’s strategy, accustomed as they were to dealing with the far more cognisant Enda Kenny. The result has been a two-pronged assault from the EU and Ireland who have been allowed to overplay the border issue and tenuously link it to the Agreement. They’ve used it as a tool to make people ‘think again’ and either annex Northern Ireland or force the UK as a whole to stay in the Customs Union as a means of protecting Ireland’s economic interests.
Herein lies the reasons for the invective leveled at Trimble and Hoey. ‘Muh Good Friday Agreement’ is being used as an argument for remaining in the EU by stealth, by people who’ve never even set foot here and have only seen Northern Ireland through the very narrow lens of the mainland’s media. They don’t realise they’re dealing with a different issue altogether.
The message going out should be clear – the losses from a no deal hard border would belong to Ireland alone. Everyone knows how to avoid that happening.