By Jack Nolan.
On Sunday, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence, Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney, remarked on the recent election of Liz Truss as Leader of the Conservative Party and British Prime Minister as “an opportunity to try and reset relationships” between Britain, Ireland and the European Union in the wake of the fallout from the posturing over the Northern Protocol. True to form, this hearty, cordial congratulations from Fine Gael’s Deputy Leader is indicative of the passive stance the Government will embrace throughout the Premiership of yet another neoliberal anti-progressive endorsed overwhelmingly by Tory members the length and breadth of Great Britain. A slightly more forensic look (by which I mean one with a hint of research) at the track record of Truss insofar as Ireland is concerned will reveal a character diametrically contrasting to that painted by Coveney and his ilk on the Government benches.
The following point cannot be overstated. Following the fiasco of sleaze, inadequacy, incompetence and ineptitude that was the Johnson administration, Tory members seem prepared to settle for the least worst of his contemporaries, Rishi Sunak and the aforementioned Thatcher lite (sorry, Liz Truss), willing and imbecilic enough to put their head above the parapet and pledge themselves to addressing the cost of living crisis, while also magically meeting the fiscal and economic demands of big business and the privileged few. Liz Truss becoming Prime Minister is a product of ignorance, unconsciousness and general social and political illiteracy among the ranks of the Tory Party, which itself is never a surprise.
This borne in mind, it is actually inconceivable that a logical, rational voice for Toryism (if there even is such a creature) would emerge among the cacophonic lunacy that is the senior rung of the Conservative Party. But Truss is a dangerous breed of inept. Truss’ dogged insolence on the most burning of issues ranging from food and energy poverty during her campaign for the Tory leadership, to her blatant inability to grasp the rudiments of maintaining trade relations as a former Trade and Foreign Secretary, proves how her shortcomings come not merely from a place of uneducation, but of concerted ignorance. However, an area in which she demonstrates this in spades is in her dealings with and regarding the island of Ireland, a region that acts as a lynchpin in one of the most lingering central issues facing the British Government in the last half decade, the fallout of Brexit.
It was only four months ago that Truss was preparing to table a bill to the Johnson Cabinet that would significantly degrade the Protocol, the provision that protects the EU’s single market and prevents a hard land border between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. Truss fully intended on dismantling a protocol that was negotiated to protect the basic tenets of Anglo-Irish relations ranging from the Common Travel Area to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This reckless abandon in dealing with the single legislative thread binding peacebuilding efforts on the island, exemplifies the concerted insolence of Truss in the face of terse Anglo-Irish relations, all for the sake of pandering to the blackmail posed by political unionism and anti-GFA Loyalism.
Throughout her campaign however, her attitude shifted, when gainful, in regards to the Protocol. Truss was less critical of the Protocol on the campaign trail, clearly in an attempt to attract “moderates” within the Tory ranks, and to whitewash her poor track record on it as Trade Secretary. This would be all well and good, and ostensibly positive if it wasn’t a porous mesh of empty promises. In hustings in Belfast, she reaffirmed her commitment to the bill she sought to table in May, while pledging only to “fix” the protocol. This ambiguity and ambivalence is a cause for concern insofar as future Anglo-Irish trade relations are concerned, and in considering the fragility of peace in the North following the Protocol crisis.
This was exacerbated by her appointment of hardline Brexiteer MP Chris Heaton-Harris as her Secretary of State for the North. The fact that Truss would actively endorse and support the work of a right-wing, nationalistic Eurosceptic as the foremost figure in one of the most volatile offices in the aftermath of the UK’s departure from the EU speaks volumes to the vehement apathy she displays towards the island of Ireland not merely from a political landscape, but from a social landscape.
If her apathetic ignorance is so strong while being faced with the prospect of an Ireland, and Ulster more specifically, in socio-political turmoil and jeopardy, I, for one, dread the fallout of her Premiership not merely for the island of Ireland, but for our neighbours almost tenfold in size across the pond, that will be forced to contend with her being the foremost authority in guiding the legislative trajectory of what is, a divided kingdom.