The British election of 12/12/19 can without hyperbole be described as a seismic event in the history of the United Kingdom, and its tremors will undoubtedly impact Ireland. Three items put the impact of last night into perspective:
- The Tory party has won its biggest victory since Margaret Thatcher captured a third term in 1987
- The Labour party has suffered its worst defeat since 1935.
- For the first time since partition, Northern Ireland has returned more Nationalist than Union MPs to Westminster.
So, what does this mean? First, it means that barring some utterly unforeseen circumstance that Brexit from an Irish perspective is done. With a clear majority in the British parliament, Boris Johnson can now push through the Brexit deal agreed to with the European Union which puts Britain’s Brexit border at the Irish coast and respects the Good Friday Agreement. If Brexit is to happen, then this is the best outcome for Ireland. You Brothers made this possible by having your U.S. elected representatives make clear that a Brexit border along the six counties would take a post-Brexit U.S./U.K. trade deal off the table.
The election also means the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has lost its position as kingmakers in parliament and is now effectively a Westminster non-entity. The victory of John Finucane, the son of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, over Nigel Dodds, the number two person in the DUP, by an overwhelming majority is a major blow for Arlene Foster and her party. The DUP will now be under pressure to restore the devolved government so they can have relevance. It is hard to see how having squandered the unique opportunity the DUP enjoyed in parliament for the past two years, not to mention her role in a still unresolved political scandal, Arlene Foster can survive in her leadership role. Given, as noted, that her number two Nigel Dodds has suffered a glaring defeat, the DUP will likely seek new leadership. The critical question is will they seek a new direction?
However, without wishing to vindicate Yeat’s observation, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy,” we must be cautious. No sea change such as this comes without rough waters. Arlene Foster’s comment that “the pan-nationalist front has come to fruition again” may indicate that the DUP will retreat into its fundamental strategy of stoking fear and division rather than moving forward in engagement.
It is, therefore, imperative that we once again make the push for a U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland to serve as an impartial, stabilizing influence during the dramatic changes which lie ahead. As a fair agent, a U.S. Envoy would mitigate the fears of Unionists and preclude their retreat into the divisive comfort zones of the past. Much of the Good Friday Agreement has yet to be implemented; until it and its vision of parity of esteem for all the people of the North is realized, then the ghost of violence remains at the table. It is time for the administration to appoint the Special Envoy which was promised and seal its historic legacy in the cause of peace which is the Good Friday Agreement.