OPINION
15/08/2019 06:30 BST

I Remember The Omagh Bloodshed – Boris Johnson's No-Deal Brexit Risks A Return To Violence

Our prime minister claims he wants to keep the Good Friday Agreement safe, yet his desire to push through a no-deal Brexit makes that impossible, Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith writes.

PA

Twenty one years can seem like an eternity when you are young, and yet the time does not cover even a generation.

Twenty one years ago, I was a 17-year-old pupil at Methodist College Belfast – Methody, to those of you who know Belfast. I was not yet old enough to vote but I was fully immersed in what Northern Ireland had to offer, both the good and the bad.

My father’s job made him and our family a target of both sides in the Troubles, and we became used to death threats on our answering machine; checking our car for explosive devices had become second-nature.

If there was ever a reason to stop Brexit it is this: it is wrong to put lives at risk in an ill-advised cliff-edge exit from the EU.

But even that couldn’t prepare us for the appalling events of August 15 1998, exactly 21 years ago.

That day, Omagh was bombed by the Real IRA, an event that would go down as the deadliest attack in the Troubles’ bloody history.

When the dust settled, 29 people were dead, 220 were injured, and outrage over the attack was global.

The victims came from many backgrounds – Protestant, Catholic, unionist, nationalist, a woman pregnant with twins, six children, tourists… the list goes on.

Revulsion over the bombing spurred on the peace process and, 21 years later, it’s easy to take for granted the relative calm that eventually settled on Northern Ireland.

But the threat of unrest has never gone away. This week, there have been petrol bomb attacks on police in Derry amid an ongoing row over a march at the weekend, and there were violent clashes in the New Lodge area of Belfast last week.

Ulster’s peace, built on the historic Good Friday Agreement, is a fragile thing and, let there be no doubt, Boris Johnson’s Brexit blunderbuss is a genuine threat to that peace.

Brexit is morally indefensible and, in practical terms, risks locking Britain into a new cycle of uncertainty and bloodshed.

At Best For Britain, we have been clear that a disastrous no-deal Brexit would cast that agreement in the bin, demonstrating utter contempt for the devastating effect Brexit could have on Northern Ireland – indeed, on both sides of the Irish border.

Johnson claims he wants to keep the Good Friday Agreement safe, yet his desire to push through a no-deal Brexit makes that impossible. What he fails to understand is that Brexit for Ireland means a potential return to more regular sectarian conflict. 

The course the prime minister’s steering is dangerously undemocratic and divisive, one that threatens to destabilise the United Kingdom.

Risking Northern Ireland’s hard-won peace, in order to pursue his own Conservative career ambitions, is unforgivable. Solutions years down the line won’t cut it: we have a deadline of 31 October this year.

If there was ever a reason to stop Brexit – and there are many – it is this: it is wrong, wrong, wrong to put lives at risk in an ill-advised cliff-edge exit from the EU.

It is morally indefensible and, in practical terms, risks locking Britain into a new cycle of uncertainty and bloodshed.

And let us not forget the impact on UK business of anything that damages the GFA. Donald Trump and John Bolton may be talking up a trade deal, but the truth is that a trade deal is not in their gift.

Congress, from Nancy Pelosi down, has made it abundantly clear that it will block any deal that puts the GFA and peace at risk.

So a no-deal Brexit runs the risk of a return to violence and blocking trade negotiations with the US before they’ve even properly begun. Genius.

When it comes to Brexit, we cannot be naïve in thinking the so-called Special Relationship will help us.

Look to history: Ronald Reagan’s opposition to the Falklands War in 1982; our continued trade agreements with Fidel Castro following the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent embargoes imposed by the Kennedy regime 20 years earlier.

In 1956, Eden and the Tories awoke one day after Suez to discover they were in isolation, shunned, betrayed even, by their closest ally and no longer able to command a seat at the table of the world’s superpowers.

Brexit is, as Best For Britain has warned repeatedly, bad news for the UK both locally and globally. Britain would pay a high price for crashing out of the EU – and if you want to know just how high a price, ask those who remember those terrible events in Omagh just 21 years ago.

Naomi Smith is CEO for Best For Britain