Last week, I was amazed to read in the newspapers Prime Minister Theresa May’s declaration that the UK government was 95% certain of a Brexit deal with the European Union. Eh? Are we any closer than we were six weeks ago? Or six months ago? I can see no evidence that we are. On the contrary, I read on a daily basis of companies, including automotive companies, frantically trying to prepare for a no-deal scenario, preparations that are almost certainly too late given that only five months remain before the UK is due to leave the EU.
Apparently, the only remaining roadblock to a deal is the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Is it to remain a border in name only, or will the EU continue to insist on formal customs checks or even, God help us, a border running down the middle of the Irish Sea? I am constantly appalled by the attitudes and incomprehension of my fellow UK citizens, amongst them many personal friends, who take the view that it is only the intransigence of “those bloody Orangemen” which is preventing progress towards a Brexit deal. What is it about the words “United Kingdom” that these people fail to understand? Any deal which creates a difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will be fiercely and rightly opposed by the present generation of Ulster men and women just as it would be if it applied to Wales or to Scotland (for the most part.)
Like it or not, there remains a political and religious divide between the two nations in Ireland. They say that the Irish have long memories, but it doesn’t take too much of a memory to recall the terrible days of the “troubles” now, thankfully, resolved, at least for the most part, by the Good Friday agreement. Do we really want a return to those dark days of the seventies and eighties? Would any UK Prime Minister who agreed to such a deal ever be forgiven for it?
The majority of Ulster men and women have stood staunchly for the union with the rest of the United Kingdom. Many have given their blood and their lives for it. On the 1st of July 1916, the bloodiest day in the history of the British army, the 36th Ulster Division attacked the German trenches on the Somme opposite Thiepval. It was one of only two divisions to achieve its objective - the capture of the German front-line trenches. Advancing towards the reserve trenches, it was finally forced to fall back due to a lack of ammunition. Now, however, it had created a salient, the units on either side having barely made it out of their own trenches. Retreating under enfilading fire, the Ulstermen were cut to pieces. Of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded on that ghastly day, four went to the 36th Ulsters, three of them posthumously. Lest we forget.