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Weaponising Northern Ireland to put pressure on the UK has been a political and strategic blunder, the gravity of which the UK’s closest allies do not seem to appreciate. With the UK’s own Secretary of State for Northern Ireland admitting that she did not understand Northern Irish politics, one may be tempted to attribute this blunder to ignorance rather than malevolence. But it is becoming clearer that a more cynical and sinister calculation may be involved. As the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “The noises that are being made in Europe are that Northern Ireland is the price the UK must pay for Brexit.”

The consequences of this approach could be very serious, not only for peace in Northern Ireland but more widely. For Britain’s allies are at risk of breaching a rule of basic political decency in inter-state relations in Europe that is more important than any institution: you do not exploit separatism in a friendly country to weaken or destabilise it. We have moved on from the politics of the 19th century, and no longer treat territorial integrity as a bargaining chip. One of Russia’s complaints has been that Western Europe did not follow this rule in the East, for example in the former Yugoslavia. There may be some truth in it, but the circumstances were very different.

The British are not prone to nationalistic outbursts of anger. The public response has so far been quite measured and, in the event of a no-deal, not a few in the country will blame the British government rather than the EU, no matter what. But if the perception were to crystallise that our European allies have indeed been exploiting Northern Ireland to weaken or divide the UK, a different reaction could take hold: “Why should we be

committed to the security of countries that try to break up our own?” Or worse: “If Northern Ireland is the price they want us to pay, why should we care about Latvia?” Once these comments enter public argument — and we are not far from the point when they will — the damage to UK-Europe relations will have been profound — perhaps irreversible.

It is then that Putin might decide to attempt a reset of UK-Russia relations with a surprise move, including some offer on Salisbury. A bear hug for a demoralised Britain that feels besieged, aggrieved and wronged by its closest friends may not be unwelcome at that point. Of course, hostility to Russia in security circles, and in much of the political class, runs deep. But one should not underestimate how the undercurrent of public sentiment can reshape things very quickly. It may be an exaggeration to say that British feelings about Northern Ireland are as visceral as Spanish feelings about Catalonia. But the idea of foreign powers, and even supposed friends and allies, trying to divide one’s country strikes a very deep chord. Few — in Brussels, Paris, Berlin or even Washington — seem to appreciate how much is at stake.
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Michael Layden
November 26th, 2018
9:11 AM
Lawrence James, your point about the cause of the 1812 and 1941 Alliances is correct, though 1914 was a different scenario. But you don't have to be a "Music-Hall Russo-phobe" to have reservations about aligning with the present gangster regime in the Kremlin. I have dearly loved relatives of both White and Red Russian origin, but I can see no possibility of any honourable accommodation between the UK and Putin's Russia.

Lawrence James
November 11th, 2018
10:11 AM
The roundabout statement that Britain 'reached out to Russia' to rescue Europe from French and German domination is incorrect. In 1812 and 1941 the Russo-British alliance was the consequence of invasions of Russia by the delinquent powers.French and German attempts to dominate the continent are and may still be the sources of all its misfortunes. An entente with Russia would be a good thing whatever the Music-Hall Russophobes may say.

November 8th, 2018
5:11 PM
The Euro is the biggest problem by far. The empire-builders have the instruction manual and are working their way through it. Imagine their surprise when they read that their own currency is an essential component. So they wished it into being, not caring that most of their statelets are enthusiastic devaluers. Fortunately that nice Sr. Draghi has been able to arrange for the ECB to accept the devaluers' worthless IOUs and as each day passes the situation deteriorates. The next page of the manual concerns the armed forces. Whatever next?

November 4th, 2018
12:11 PM
The Foreword to the Europa Diary 2010-2011: Dear students, As we begin the second decade of the 21st. century, you have been given the seventh edition of the Europa Diary. This educational tool has become much sought after and highly appreciated by three and a half million teenagers, just like you, all around Europe. We believe that education is an essential prerequisite for individual development and progress of society as a whole. Education is one of the key elements that will enable us to restore the social market economy of Europe by 2020. By then you will be preparing to take over the leadership of Europe as well as presenting your plans for a bigger and stronger European Union. Make sure you are ambitious, responsive and.responsible for your own future! José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission

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