Even on a weekend like this, they just couldn’t help themselves. It’s a weekend that remembers some of the most important moments in modern European history. Of course, on Sunday 11th November we remember the armistice signed to mark the end of the continent’s most brutal conflict. This year’s Remembrance Day services are obviously more poignant due it being the centenary year of the end of the war. We also mark eighty years since Kristallnacht and twenty-nine years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Therefore, in the head offices of the Democratic Unionist Party, it must have seemed like an opportune moment to throw more petrol on the fire that is the Northern Irish border issue. Yes, the most conservative parliamentary party in the UK, to whom the Good Friday Agreement is ‘not sacrosanct’, has continued to stake its position as the dangerous, radical party of Northern Ireland. They couldn’t have chosen a more inappropriate time to do it.
Much has been made of the way in which we remember the Great War in the UK. Some, such as the current leader of the Labour Party, have chosen to wear the white poppy in the past, arguing that the current structure of Remembrance Sunday does not call for pacifism. While I wouldn’t say that the commemorations at Thiepval or Ypres are exactly clamouring for a return to 1918, people should be free to wear whichever poppy they choose or none at all. The annual argument over the poppy is particularly distasteful given the nature of the lectures. It’s been hijacked by the most heinous corners of the British right wing.
Once a year, the Democratic Unionist Party attacks the Irish footballer, James McClean, for refusing to wear the poppy on his shirt during the Remembrance commemorations. This is due to his birthplace, Derry, the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre. This year, McClean was sent death threats and abusive packages. Each year, he has to clarify that he does in fact remember the dead of both world wars but that the poppy means something different to him and to his hometown. Each year, he is vilified by the DUP.
So, one might ask, what legs do the DUP have to stand on when it comes to remembering the dead of war? If you want to take its past at face value, it campaigned against power-sharing efforts in the Sunningdale Agreement (1973), the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and the Good Friday Agreement (1998), consistently jeopardising peace in Northern Ireland. It has traditionally been close to the right-wing of the Conservative Party and is currently propping them up in a confidence and supply deal. Its position of supporting Brexit yet also rigidly defending regulatory alignment with the mainland UK can only produce one outcome: a hard border in Ireland and an end to the Good Friday Agreement. What remembrance is that? What patriotism is that? In the Balkans, Montenegro and Serbia, two countries haunted by a recent war are preparing to join their old enemies Croatia in the EU and put their old divisions behind them. Yet Britain is reduced to being hamstrung by the ideological rigidity of a party descended from- and still including- former loyalist paramilitaries.
Perhaps the most sickening- yet not surprising- aspect to all this is that our party of government entertains them. Jacob Rees-Mogg once said that a possible solution to the post-Brexit Northern Irish border issue would be to return to customs checks ‘as we had during the Troubles’. At this point, he had never visited the border before. We frequently hear that a ‘positive’ outcome of leaving the EU would be a ‘bonfire of regulations’. It could be a bonfire of so much more if the likes of Rees-Mogg and Arlene Foster get their way.
I have friends whose relatives died during the Troubles. How would they feel telling them that the Good Friday Agreement could be about to come to an end? I have a great-grandfather who fought at the Battle of the Somme. After the memories of that battle that haunted him for the rest of his life, could I seriously tell him with a straight face that our British government is dragging us out of a project responsible for seventy years of unbroken European peace? I’d find it difficult, for sure. So when the bloodhounds of the Eurosceptic British right wing come out in droves to claim the First World War for their own, we need to recognise their hypocrisy. We need to properly remember all those who gave their lives up in that pointless war caused by lust for land. We need to look to the future and ensure it never happens again. This can only happen through continued cooperation in Northern Ireland and cooperation with Europe.