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The British Labour party and a Border Poll? Square that circle… November 24, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Curious this:

A Labour government in Britain would remain neutral on the question of Irish unity in any future Border poll, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh has said. She described Labour as a unionist party but said the Belfast Agreement meant that the British government should not act as a persuader on one side of the argument.

“The principal of consent is still very much intact. It is only for the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own constitutional future and polls still suggest there is still a very firm majority in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom,” she told GB News.

Note the context she said all this. But how is the following circle squared?

“It’s not my job to be a persuader for the union, that was an important principle that led up to the Good Friday Agreement. One of the important principles was that Britain should not have any strategic or selfish economic interest in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. It’s up to the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own constitutional future.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said in July that he would be “on the side of unionists” arguing for Northern Ireland to remain in the UK. “I personally, as leader of the Labour Party, believe in the United Kingdom strongly, and would want to make the case for a United Kingdom strongly and will be doing that.”

And…

DUP MP Carla Lockhart condemned Ms Haigh’s comments, which she said were at odds with the position of her party leader.

“Less than six months ago Sir Keir Starmer was clear that he would campaign for Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom in any future border poll. The comments of Louise Haigh not only contradict these but demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the principle of consent,” she said.

But:

Ms Haigh’s comments reflect Labour’s position since Tony Blair became leader and the party abandoned its policy of supporting Irish unity by consent. Under Mr Blair, Labour said it would no longer be a persuader for Irish unity and his Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam said the Belfast Agreement required the British government to remain neutral on the constitutional question.

So which is it? Haigh or Starmer’s position? Or will they suggest that perhaps individual politicians, all the way up to a PM, could adopt individual stances in such a context?

Comments»

1. EWI - November 24, 2021

Under Mr Blair, Labour said it would no longer be a persuader for Irish unity and his Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam said the Belfast Agreement required the British government to remain neutral on the constitutional question.

So the Labour Party position of ‘neutrality’ originates in a Blairite move to neuter another traditional Labour position (let’s not forget that Mandelson was and remains a firm unionist, and that Blair replaced Kevin McNamara as Shadow Northern Irish Secretary of State with Mowlam).

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WorldbyStorm - November 24, 2021

I know what you’re saying but tbh I’d sooner they didn’t involve themselves in the affairs of this island!

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2. Mat - November 24, 2021

I suspect it’s a reflection of the fact that the BLP contains people with all sorts of ideas about Ireland – many of them Irish, including people from a Unionist background. One of the local CLPs I was involved in had a staunch Belfast Protestant Unionist on the committee and a Catholic ex Civil Rights campaigner as well. There was an ex squaddie as well.

I don’t recall what the party’s position on Ireland was at the time beyond support for the GFA and consent.

I do recall the perennial issue of the Labour Party in NI causing moderate embarrassment though.

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WorldbyStorm - November 24, 2021

Yeah, it is very much a mixed group of people re Ireland. And then there’s areas that are more or less exercised by the issue. Or there’d be strands that were functionally pro-union, or hostile to republicanism, the Independent Labour crew were essentially that weren’t they?

And as you say the issue of NI representation… small wonder they’ve fended that off. But I think in a way one only has to see how Scottish independence has caused ructions for and in Labour to see how it has always been a unionist party in functional terms both in relation to the North and Scotland, albeit lower case ‘unionist’ and driven almost by default. It hasn’t had to think much about it until the 1970s and when it did it didn’t much like where it was leading so it stopped thinking about it again for quite some time! And the genius of the GFA/BA was that it could present as both unoinist and not unionist.

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Mat - November 24, 2021

Yes – on second thoughts there is the affiliated Labour Party Irish Society which I went to a fundraiser they had organised once and at my table was a banker who was FG back home. But also definately the majority would have been pro-united Ireland in spirit. But then you could argue I guess that “in spirit” but not action is functionally unionist anyway. Same as.arguing for majority consent is pro unionist given it’s acceptance of the legitimacy of the artificial statelet.

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WorldbyStorm - November 24, 2021

“But then you could argue I guess that “in spirit” but not action is functionally unionist anyway.” that’s so true.

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banjoagbeanjoe - November 24, 2021

But it doesn’t really matter that much anymore, if it ever did, does it? That the British Labour Party is functionally or in spirit or any other way unionist or nationalist or pro UI or pro UK?
It’s the people of NI who will decide, ultimately, in a referendum. And they won’t be swayed at all, I’d say, by whatever the position of the British Labour Party is at the time of that referendum.

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3. crocodileshoes - November 24, 2021

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the north of England and wasn’t too surprised that Brexit-voting constituencies often had big army bases and many families with soldiers, past or present. The tabloids made much of Labour’s lack of ‘patriotism’ around the time of the last election, which in areas strongly associated with the military paid a big dividend for the Tories. See also the attempt to stop all charges against former servicemen in Northern Ireland.
The nexus – Brexit, support ‘our lads’, don’t trust Labour – was puzzling to those who wonder why northern working class voters would elect MPs who were clearly against their own class interests. In Ireland, too, I’d suggest, we find it hard to relate to that ‘thank you for your service’ mentality.

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