Northern Ireland: An advance by US imperialism and a headache for the British bourgeoisie

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The Windsor framework is a post-Brexit legal agreement made by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on February 27 this year, ostensibly over trade relations between the mainland and Northern Ireland. The deal, which has been affirmed by the Council of the European Union and accepted by a 515-29 vote in Parliament, was recommended by Sunak as “Safeguarding sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland” In fact it is the opposite which is the case as the agreement significantly strengthens US imperialism’s long-term aim for a “United Ireland”. The deal contains lots of minute detail about the movement of goods between the mainland and Northern Ireland and protections for the EU’s Single Market. It also includes giving sops to the Unionists in the form of a “Stormont brake” which, by political necessity, is a virtually incomprehensible procedure very unlikely to be used. The agreement will replace the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill 2022/23, a “cunning wheeze” of the Johnson clique aimed at unilaterally and illegally overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol divorce agreement made by the EU and the UK in 2019, the purpose of which was to stabilise the American-imposed Good Friday Agreement (GFA) signed in 1998 by Britain and Ireland, an agreement voted against only by Unionists[1].

Since the beginnings of capitalist decadence around the outset of the 1900s and its expression of full-blown, global imperialism – the permanence of war and preparation for war – the American ruling class has had its eyes set on and its policies directed towards Irish reunification. From that time, and still today, the policy of the United States in regard to Britain was first to overtake it as the major world power by dint of its imperialist and economic force and then to dismantle the British Empire piece by piece while appropriating to itself monies, gold, businesses, trade routes, influences, armies, territories and islands that once belonged to Britain. In true Mafia style it’s the most loyal lieutenants that the Godfather bleeds the most. Thus the real “special relationship” between America and Britain is one of imperialist force and, in general, the “Irish question” has reflected that trend during most of the 20 the century.

US influence over Ireland, or “Shamrock Diplomacy” as it’s called, mostly by the British media, is now playing a significant role in post-Brexit US/British relations, including threats by the former to block any further trade deal between the two. The Irish-American lobby in Washington has never been so strong and so powerfully used by the American state.

US pressure for a united Ireland, reflecting its role as the new superpower, began in 1917, just after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, and reached a high point in a full-floor discussion in Congress, March 1919, calling on the US delegation at the Versailles peace talks to “make Irish self-determination an urgent matter”.[2] Ireland’s 1920’s/30’s neutrality, and its flirtation with the Nazis, made things difficult for the US but by the 1970’s and 1980’s the US was coming out in the open over its support for Irish nationalism, along with covert discussions going on with the IRA. And in the latter years, Brexit, which has immeasurably weakened the British state, has resulted in a manipulated groundswell of US agreement to defend the1998 GFA. In the meantime, an Anglo-US trade deal is ruled out by both Democrat and Republican elements. But it is the Democrats in particular that see Brexit and its proponents as a maverick attempt to undermine US “order”.

Early in June 2021, The Times reported that the US administration had reprimanded Britain over its row with the EU regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying that it was “inflaming tensions”.[3] According to the report the US administration issued a rare demarche against the UK, which in diplomatic terms is the equivalent of a hefty kick up the arse signalling further intent; subsequent US denials about this can be taken with a pinch of salt. Partly in response to this, and after Sinn Fein won the most seats in the May 2022 election to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Unionist DUP[4] upped the ante: it refused to accept the vote and shut down the Assembly in protest about the direction the talks on the Protocol were taking. This stymied a working Northern Ireland Assembly, which is essential for US plans. Since then and up to today, despite the power-sharing GFA, Northern Ireland has been under direct rule from Westminster, a situation that is clearly unacceptable to the US which sees a working Assembly as a vehicle towards a united Ireland; and herein lies the tussle between the US and Britain, and definitely not in the movement of sausages from Barnsley to Belfast.

Brexit further weakens British imperialism

It was the election of the Truss faction to government[5] that gave the US administration the perfect excuse to act swiftly and decisively on the Irish Question. Rishi Sunak, a Fulbright and Stanford scholar, employed by Goldman Sachs in America, and a United States citizen while he was Britain’s Chancellor, was the administration’s preferred candidate for Prime Minister after the greatly distrusted Boris Johnson was deposed. And in her turn Truss and her clique had to go and go they rapidly did on the back of what was effectively political and financially driven regime-change engineered by the ruling Democratic Party through the American-dominated IMF. It was a bloodless “coup”, resulting in the shedding of only a few tears and a big financial hit.

Trying to “take back control” through Brexit, i.e., the UK making its own way despite the demands of the American state and the EU, has been a disaster for Britain. It is a result of this declining power being buffeted by the storms of capitalist decomposition and this is firmly evidenced in the rise to power of both the populist and irrational Johnson and Truss cliques. The “trade deals” made by Britain in its new Brexit “freedom” has been one-sided and costly for it, reflecting the weakness of the UK’s negotiating position. And all the while the high-cost, low-wage British Isles, less and less able to deliver sufficient health care and floundering in its own sewage, is being circled by rival sharks and hovering vultures – and these are just its allies.

On the back of this weakness the US government has taken advantage of the situation to push home its agenda over Ireland. The Biden administration has certainly had many important issues and events to manoeuvre and manage over the last couple of years but, throughout this period, Ireland is one that it has brought to the fore with some political vigour. Despite the problems that Biden has had, his government has been on something of an unexpected roll recently and a subtly stage-managed trip to Ireland to move the “Peace Process” further forward will do the Democrats and Biden no harm in the run-up to the 2024 election. The danger from this is that the Pax Americana imposed by the US everywhere tends to bring in its wake even more chaos and instability, and Ireland will probably be no exception to this rule. However, it looks like Biden’s trip to celebrate 25 years of the GFA will go ahead (the US secret services have been reconnoitring in Ireland weeks before the British government’s invitation) and the appointment of Joe Kennedy III as “peace envoy”, from the dynasty that has always supported Irish reunification, send a clear message of US intent.

The instability at the imperialist level has reverberated throughout the domestic situation and impacted on the political apparatus of the British bourgeoisie, which has played the “Orange Card” once again; and the DUP, a minority of a minority in Northern Ireland, has obliged with its “No surrender!” line and its threats to take months to consider the framework. DUP boss Sir Jeffry Donaldson has said that it “fell short of what his party could accept, while Downing Street has said that it wants to give the DUP the time that it needs to come to a conclusion. The DUP appears in no hurry despite Biden’s statement that this move is “an essential step” (Reuters, 27.2.23). This creates more problems for Sunak: can the British government continue to be complicit in the sabotage of the Northern Ireland Assembly in the face of the US offensive? Will it have to confront the DUP and override its veto? How will it get it back into the Stormont Assembly? When advocating the deal, Sunak gushed that it put Northern Ireland in a position that was “most exciting ... unbelievably special ... unique in the entire world ... privileged access to the EU single market (Daily Business, 14 March). This statement of the benefits of the EU has raised some eyebrows, not only among political elements in Scotland and Wales; it has also caused further dissent and disquiet among the ranks of Tory MPs, particularly those that were already railing against the deal. All this shows the wider stakes involved in this political minefield for the British government.

The attack by paramilitaries on a senior policeman in Omagh at the end of February, probably by the dissident Republicans of the “New IRA” does, although a relatively isolated event, show the potential for what’s going on beneath the surface in this still militarised society that has been in effect a battleground for the imperialist rivalries of America and Britain for some time. And it also demonstrates that the de facto opposition to the Windsor framework is comprised of the Tory right, Ulster Unionism, and dissident Republicans. Against this, and in the face of the upcoming celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the GFA, and if everything goes to plan for the Americans, the working class in Ireland can expect to be inundated with a wave of pro-American Irish nationalism. And against this, it is important for the working class to retain the memory of its strikes and actions over the decades that have broken out of the sectarian prison, most lately exemplified by the massive 2019 Northern Ireland nurses’ and health-workers’ strike which cut right across the religious divide and involved workers as workers fighting for their own interests.

Baboon, 26.3.23


[1] For a concise history of Unionism and Irish nationalism with a link to the positions of leftism on the question, see: Irish republicanism: weapon of capital against the working class

[4] Since the 1998 power-sharing agreement the Assembly at Stormont has been suspended on five occasions, including from 2002 to 2007 by the withdrawal of the Unionists and from 2017 to 2020 when Sinn Fein withdrew; and latterly it has been shut down for around a year since the Unionists withdrew over the Protocol. For a deeper analysis of the ICC’s position on the role of the factions involved in Ireland and the latter’s historical framework see the ICC’s polemic with the CWO (Communist Workers’ Organisation) on this issue: “Imperialist Conflict or capitalist ‘peace’?

[5] Truss resignation shows the real nature of Britain’s “special relationship” with the US Concerned about the incendiary policy of the Truss cult for the class struggle – and thus US-imposed acquiescence from its “allies” - the US took full advantage of Britain’s weaknesses to impose its own “solution”.


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