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Once More, The Irish Question

Ambassador Prabhat P Shukla


Reunification for real this time?

 

British Prime Minister Blair [L] and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, April 1998

 

Summary

The issue of the future of Northern Ireland is important because the UK is included in the UN Charter as a permanent member of the UN Security Council [UNSC] under the name “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”; should that change as a result of the merger of the island of Ireland, there will be three permanent members of UNSC sitting under names different from those listed in the Charter: the UK itself, the USSR and the Republic of China.

Westminster appears reconciled to the eventual separation of Northern Ireland from the UK, and merger with the Republic of Ireland. Even the Conservative Party, whose full title is “Conservative and Unionist Party” is of the same mind.

The Troubles, lasting from the late 1960’s to the late 1990’s show that the terror campaign by the Provisional IRA worked. After each major attack, more concessions were forthcoming from London.

Foreign, especially US, pressure has also worked, and has been applied mainly in favour of the Catholics seeking merger with the Republic of Ireland. This has been especially true of Presidents of Irish extraction, Protestant or Catholic. Biden has raised this to an entirely new level.

 

The historical background

 

With the advent of the Sinn Fein led Government in Belfast, the topic of Irish unification has acquired a fresh salience. Sinn Fein [“we ourselves”] has been up and down over the last hundred years or so: it was the largest party in Ireland in the 1918 general elections in the UK, winning 75 out of the 105 seats allocated to the then-united Ireland.

However, the Sinn Fein leader of the time [he was to leave the party later], Eamon de Valera, was bent on Irish independence. De Valera was American-Irish, the product of a major emigration from Ireland after the Great Famine of the 1840’s, who cajoled the US into getting involved in the Irish Question. This involvement continues to this day, cemented by an influential lobby of Irish-origin politicians: President Biden is of Irish-Catholic descent.

The elected Sinn Fein members, thus, did not take up their seats in the UK House of Commons, but instead set up their own Parliament, and proclaimed an independent Irish Republic; however, Sinn Fein had won only a minority of seats in Ulster, and the Protestant MP’s did not participate in the so-called First Dail, in which only Sinn Fein members took part. On 21 January 1919, they issued their Declaration of Independence.

The British reaction was swift, and harsh – apart from the usual Royal Irish Constabulary, they deployed the notorious Black-and-Tans – an undisciplined group who indulged in harsh reprisals, some authorized by London. The Irish had already set up their own Irish Republican Army [IRA]; the culmination was a clash on 21 November 1920, Bloody Sunday.

The continued fighting convinced the British government that they had to negotiate with the Irish – and the result was the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which resulted in the independence of the Irish Free State. Two important consequences followed in the wake of the Treaty. The first was that the status of the Free State was that of a dominion, meaning that the King would remain sovereign and Members of Parliament would have to swear allegiance to him. This was unacceptable to many of the Sinn Fein members of the Dail, including to de Valera, leading to a split in the Party.

The second was the result of another important provision of the Treaty: this was to allow for the six Protestant-majority counties to exercise their right of self-determination, and opt out of the Free State if they wished to do so. Within a month of the signing of the Treaty, they had done so. This area became Northern Ireland, or Ulster, and part of the United Kingdom, which changed its name to the present-day one – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

De Valera, meantime, had left Sinn Fein over his rejection of dominion status for Ireland, and formed his own Party, Fianna Fail [“the warriors of destiny”]. Given that the basis of his disagreement with the Sinn Fein was the issue of Republicanism, this was accordingly the main plank of the new Party. Nonetheless, he took the oath in order to enter the Irish Parliament after his Party won 72 seats in the 1932 election, in a House of 153 members – just short of a majority. This effectively ended Sinn Fein as a political party for the rest of the 20th century. For its part, Fianna Fail would form several governments in Dublin for the next hundred years, alternating with the yet-to-be-formed Fine Gael.

After an early election in 1933, Fianna Fail obtained an absolute majority in the Dail, and used that power to amend the Constitution. De Valera used the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 to push through these changes. The burden of the amendments was to remove any role or reference to the monarch in Britain, to claim the entire island as Ireland, thus undoing an important part of the 1921 Treaty, and to enshrine a “special position” for the Catholic church.

The next turning point was the election of 1948, when Fianna Fail once again lost its majority, though it remained the largest Party in the Dail. A new Party emerged as a challenger – Fine Gael [“family/tribe of Irish”], successor to parties that had been the ruling parties after the 1921 Treaty, namely Sinn Fein [before the split] and its offshoot, Cumann na nGaedheal. A coalition led by Fine Gael leader John Costello, took office in 1948, and the following year, formally declared Ireland a Republic [at the same time as the Indian Constitution, not the first coincidence in the Indian and Irish nationalist movements. However, unlike India, Ireland also exited the Commonwealth.]

There is some evidence that de Valera, in his first, and only, meeting with Churchill, in 1953, when the latter was Prime Minister, affirmed that had he continued in office in 1948, he would not have left the Commonwealth.[1]

This was the situation in the Emerald Isle – relatively peaceful – when the Troubles broke out in the late 1960’s. Each side – Protestant or Catholic – blames the other, but what is clear is that the British forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and, after 1972, the British Army committed atrocities against the Catholics, which led to the revival of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Their campaign of attacks against the British forces culminated in Bloody Sunday, 21 July 1972.


The Sunningdale Agreement


These events forced a fresh approach from London, and talks were held between the two antagonistic sides in Norther Ireland, and with the Dublin government. The result of these confabulations was the Sunnungdale Agreement, signed in December 1973[2]. This agreement proposed a power-sharing arrangement in Belfast between the two communities, and set up a Council of Ireland; this provided for sharing both executive and legislative powers between the north and the south. It also provided for the final status of Northern Ireland to be settled in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the population – the first such reference from London. Not surprisingly, one of the Northern Ireland leaders, who supported the Agreement, described it as "the vehicle that would trundle unionists into a united Ireland". With this description, it was obviously a non-starter for the unionist parties.

The opponents of the Agreement won 11 of the 12 Northern Ireland seats in the House of Commons in the February 1974 general election in the UK. This spelt the end of the Sunningdale Agreement.

The IRA stepped up its campaign of bombing expanding its reach from Northern Ireland to mainland Britain, killing Lord Mountbatten before reaching its bloody crescendo in the 1984 Brighton bombing targeting the hotel where the Conservative Party leaders were staying for their annual conference. Among others, the wife of senior Cabinet Minister Norman Tebbit suffered paralysing injuries, which left her wheel chair-bound for the rest of her life. In a recent article Lord Tebbit, as he is now, wrote:


All in all, it looks more likely than not that in the not too distant future, the province will become part of the Republic.

Will that have any effect on Scottish or Welsh nationalism? Will King Charles III end up as just the King of England? And will my great grandchildren grow up in an unstable England and look for safety within a European state?

I am glad to be in my nineties rather than my fifties.[3]


Those who knew and dealt with Tebbit in the 1980’s would have reason to be surprised; he was tough-minded in his opposition to IRA violence, and a man of steely nerve.

Anyhow, the serious damage inflicted by the IRA bombing of the Brighton Hotel prompted another round of negotiations between London and Dublin, resulting in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1985.


The Anglo-Irish Treaty 1985


Until the 1970’s, the US had kept out of Irish affairs, but that began to change under President Carter, though it was limited to formal statements at this stage. The substantive change came about under pressure from the Irish-American members of Congress, led by House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan. As a result of their intervention, President Reagan spoke directly to Prime Minister Thatcher and advised her to find a solution to the issue.

The Irish Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Garrett Fitzgerald had several rounds of talks with Mrs Thatcher, and the Anglo-Irish Council, set up by the two leaders, recommended three options: a federal Ireland, a confederal Ireland, or joint sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Thatcher rejected all three. It was at this stage that President Reagan advised Prime Minister Thatcher that his colleagues like Speaker O’Neill wanted her to be reasonable and forthcoming.

Prime Minister Thatcher certainly was forthcoming: the Anglo-Irish Treaty repeated and elaborated on the earlier explicit commitment in the Sunningdale agreement in the first Article to permit the two parts to unite if that was the wish of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland.[4] It also provided for an Inter-Governmental Conference to deal with political, security matters regarding Northern Ireland, as well as on ways to promote cross-border cooperation.

It would be a gross understatement to say that this did not go down well with the unionists; Enoch Powell, one of the senior-most MP’s from Ulster, accused Prime Minister Thatcher of treason, no less. Similar opinions were expressed across the board by the unionist politicians. At the other end of the spectrum, Tony Benn argued that the agreement did not go far enough in ensuring a united Ireland; so did a young MP named Jeremy Corbyn, who was to acquire some notoriety in later years as the Labour leader.

However, the agreement passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 473-47, reflecting cross-party support for the agreement. In Dublin, the vote in the Dail was closer at 88-75: Fianna Fail, led by Charles Haughey voted against the agreement on the grounds that the agreement recognised Britain's sovereignty over Northern Ireland, a more or less standard position among the republicans. Within Northern Ireland, the Social Democratic and Labour Party supported the agreement, as did the Alliance – both had also supported the Sunningdale Agreement. But the Ulster Unionist Party [UUP] and the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] opposed the agreement.

The strong reaction against the provisions of the agreement, both in the north and the south, meant that the agreement would not succeed in settling the quarrel. In later times, Prime Minister Thatcher acknowledged that it was a mistake and that the criticism of Enoch Powell was justified.[5]

The agreement sputtered on between life and death for the next few years, but a major change came about after President Clinton took office in 1993. Almost immediately, there was a proposal to grant a visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, who had been banned from the airwaves by the UK government since the late 1980’s. The initial US response was negative, but this was reversed in 1994, and Adams was granted a 48-hour visa, causing a furious row between Prime Minister John Major and President Clinton.[6] It turned out that a number of influential Irish-American Senators, including Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, and Chris Dodd had written to President Clinton urging a favourable view on the matter, though President Clinton took full responsibility for the decision.

A few months later, though, it seemed the visit bore some fruit, because the IRA announced an end to the terror campaign in August 1994. A second visit by Adams followed in 1995, and by 1996, President Clinton appointed former Senator George Mitchell to mediate in the issue. In the multi-party talks that followed – involving the governments of UK and Ireland, as well as representatives of both communities in Northern Ireland, Senator Mitchell was appointed Chair of the proceedings.

The May 1997 general elections in the UK brought a Labour government to power, after a gap of almost two decades, under the Prime Ministership of Tony Blair, who was later, after he demitted office, to accept Catholic communion.

The result of these exertions was the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.


The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement


The agreement was signed on Good Friday, 10 April, 1998, and builds on the 1985 agreement by repeating the right of the people of Northern Ireland to unite with the south if that were the wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.[7]

It is probably a reflection of the continuing gulf between the two sides that even the agreement has different names: Belfast in the UK, Good Friday in Ireland. In a way, it was a re-run of the past agreements; in fact, the SDLP leader, Seamus Mallon called it “Sunningdale for slow learners”.

Indeed, many of the provisions are taken from past settlements, most importantly, on the future status of Northern Ireland. But the new agreement provides a more detailed blueprint for the functioning of the trilateral system, UK-Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland.  Since this is the extant agreement, and is the subject of some controversy in the context of the 2016 Brexit vote, it deserves to be understood in some detail – both as to what it is, and what it is not.

First off, it repeats the agreements of the past on allowing for self-determination for Northern Ireland; the letter of the relevant Article [Constitutional Issues 1 (iii)] empowers:


The people of the island of Ireland, by agreement of the two parts respectively, and without external impediment to exercise their right of self-determination…to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to, the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.


The agreement also set up numerous bodies, including reviving the Northern Ireland Assembly, and set up a North-South Ministerial Council to address issues within their competence, initially focusing on issues such as transport, agriculture, environment, etc;  and a British-Irish Council to discuss and implement agreements on issues lying within their powers. Each of these three major chapters is called a “strand” in the agreement.

There is a curious formulation to the effect that, “it is understood that North-South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are mutually inter-dependent, and that one cannot function successfully without the other”. In a sense, this is a tautology: there can be no Ministerial Cou8ncil, without an Assembly in the north or a parliament in the south, since there will be no Ministers without them.

The agreement also allows for dual nationality of the people of Northern Ireland, and this would not change with any change in the status of the territory.

For its part, Ireland would amend Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution, which claimed all of the island as its territory; however, the amended articles reiterated the “firm will” of the people if Ireland to unite all the people of the island.

There are two matters that are not part of the agreement. The first is the issue of the border between the north and the south. This has acquired some salience as a result of Brexit, since it also forms the border between Britain and the European Union. Nowhere does the agreement stipulate that there cannot be border controls at this border. That emphatic demand has come really from the US and, in more muted terms from the EU. However, London has accepted this as a reality, and has therefore allowed a de-facto commercial border between the mainland and Northern Ireland. This is an ongoing point of friction between the unionists and London, and between London and Brussels.

The second is, it does not spell out that the First and Deputy First Ministers are co-equals in the Executive in Northern Ireland. In constitutional terms and in practice, they are required to function together, but this thesis may face a challenge at some future date.

The agreement was put to a referendum in Northern Ireland, and won 71% of the vote. Nevertheless, the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP], led by Ian Paisley, rejected the agreement over issues to do with Sinn Fein’s refusal to accept policing and rule of law in the territory. Finally, the issues were resolved in a supplementary St Andrews Agreement, in 2006, and that paved the way for a mixed Executive in Belfast.

Meanwhile, the DUP had become the largest unionist party, eclipsing the Ulster Unionist Party [UUP] whose most prominent member was the late Enoch Powell. The general progression of parties gaining strength in Ulster shows that the most resolute unionist party gains maximum support among the Protestants. Similarly, Sinn Fein has become the most popular party among the republicans.

All these changes have gone alongside a demographic change as well. At the time of the partition of Ireland in 1921, the Protestant population enjoyed a majority of some 67%. Over the decades, it declined, so that by 2001, it had fallen below 50%, though adding other non-Catholics, their share was still some 53%. Since then, this share has been falling at about 5% every decade, and in the 2021 census, their share in the population was down to 43.5%; the Catholics became the largest plurality at 45.7%. the rest were mainly those with no religion, a fast-growing segment of the population. Extrapolating this trend would suggest that, by 2031, the Catholics may well be the majority in Northern Ireland.

This demographic change is also showing up in the elections to the Assembly: while the DUP remains the most popular party among the Protestants, Sinn Fein has emerged as the largest party in the Assembly with 27 seats in the 2022 elections. The DUP fell to second place with 25 seats. While most of the traditional unionist parties were eclipsed in the elections, the Alliance Party, which claims to be neither on one side nor the other, made impressive gains, going up from 9 to 17 seats between 2017 and 2022.

These results allowed the Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill to become the First Minister, while the DUP’s Deputy First Minister is Emma Little-Pengelly.

There were many hiccups on the way to this government, which finally took shape in February 2024, mainly to do with Brexit. The vote on the Brexit referendum in 2016 in Northern Ireland was 56:44 in favour of remaining in the EU; and yet, when it came to drawing a line between the EU Single Market and the UK, the latter was hamstrung because of the mistaken understanding that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement prevented a border between the two parts of Ireland. This meant either a border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, or including all of the UK in the customs are of the EU – in effect, negating Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May opted for the latter course, and was roundly defeated in Commons in January 2109 by the largest majority ever in the history of democratic governance by 432 to 202, a defeat exacerbated by a back-bench revolt, including, among others, the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

In his turn, Prime Minister Johnson – after initially vowing that there would never be a customs line between Ulster and the mainland – opted for precisely this solution, which became known as the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, or the Northern Ireland Protocol for short.. This did pass muster in Commons, but in the teeth of strong opposition from the unionists, opposition that has not yet been quelled as of this writing, in spite of two rounds of addenda to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The first was the Windsor Framework, which created a green and a red channel for goods from Britain to Ulster, as well as other safeguards to prevent goods from Britain leaking into the EU through the Irish border. It also provided for the so-called “Stormont brake”, under which a minimum of two parties and 30 members of the Assembly could block the application of new EU regulations, with the final decision on the regulations resting with the UK Government. Finally, it also clarified and confirmed that EU arrangements on customs procedures, agriculture, fisheries, and the environment would not apply in Northern Ireland. Though the Windsor Protocol passed with a 519-29 vote in Commons, it was rejected by the DUP, which held up the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This led to further efforts at assuaging the fears of the unionists; the fruit of these labours was the document “Safeguarding the Union”.


Safeguarding the Union


This Command Paper builds on the Windsor Framework, and backs up the proposed changes with legislative action to prevent any erosion by future governments. In doing so, the new document seeks to “copper-fasten” the place of Northern Ireland in the UK. Apart from reaffirming the commitments in the Windsor Framework, the document list over twenty additional features. A selection of these includes the widening of the label “Not For Sale In The EU” to all of the UK, instead of confining it to Northern Ireland only; abolition of all checks on goods moving in the UK internal market by any non-UK authorities; the green channel for goods into Northern Ireland to be abolished, and brought into the UK internal market system; legislative actions to back up the Stormont brake, unfettered access to the UK internal market, and reaffirmation of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK, only to be changed with the consent of a majority of the population of the territory.

On the basis of this reassurance, the DUP resumed its place in the Assembly, and its new representative Emma Little-Pengelly, as mentioned above, became the Deputy First Minister, under a Sinn Fein First Minister – a historical first. Today, Sinn Fein is the largest party on both sides of the border, though it has been kept out of power in the south by both the traditional parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael; the demographics in Ulster are also moving in the same direction. This would explain the pessimism voiced by Norman Tebbit.


Foreign influences


Foreign influences, especially American, have also played an important role in developments over the Irish Question, as has been brought out in the narrative so far. Even President Reagan, a Protestant, who had a well-publicised special relationship with Prime Minister Thatcher, did not spare the UK on this issue. A thoughtful lament in an obscure outlet got it right – the US special relationship is with Ireland, not with the UK[8]. Of course, the US has hit British interests more or less consistently since the Second World War, so there is substance to the plaint referred to.

Part of this is the efficacy of the Irish lobby in the US. Their number is put at around 20 million, and many hold influential positions in politics and the media. Undoubtedly at the top of the pile is the current President, Joe Biden, himself an Irish-Catholic. He visited his home towns in Ireland in the summer of 2023, and made his positions clear. There should be no weakening of the Good Friday agreement, which meant that there should be no hard border dividing the two sides. He also sent a strong signal by not travelling to Britain; instead, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met him for a 45-minute breakfast session in Belfast.

To crown it all, when he was back in Washington, he made a speech in which he said that he had gone to Ireland to “make sure the Brits didn’t screw around”. Unlikely and un-Presidential as it sounds, this is exactly what he said:


And one of the things — I got to go back — not what I had planned on talking about, but I got to go back to Ireland for the — for the — the Irish Accords, to make sure they weren’t — the Brits didn’t screw around and Northern Ireland didn’t walk away from their commitments[9].

 

Even before the Brexit referendum, President Obama had spoken in favour of remaining in the EU, saying that Britain would be at the end of the queue for a trade agreement with the US if it voted to leave. Other voices too, including then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, herself a Catholic, has argued consistently that any weakening of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, specifically the border, would make it impossible for any trade agreement between the US and Britain to pass in Congress. This has tied British hands in its dealings with the Republic of Ireland.

Notwithstanding the above, President Biden’s remarks, and behaviour [snubbing the British Prime Minister] marked a different level of negativity towards Britian. This prompted former DUP leader, Arlene Foster to declare publicly that “Biden hated the UK”[10] – a charge that got a pro forma denial from a mid-level official at the National Security Council.

The other source of foreign influence is the European Union. Brexit has aggravated the Irish question. In the Brexit referendum, Northern Ireland voted 56:44 to remain. The EU has supported this majority desire by stating that, if the North were to merge with the Republic, its entry into the EU would be automatic. This was a decision taken early in the negotiations between the EU and the UK, at a European Council meeting in 2017, where, on the analogy of East Germany, it was decided that Northern Ireland, if it merged with the Repu8blic of Ireland, would become an EU member[11]. This will clearly promote such a merger, and given the 56% majority in favour of remaining in the EU [confirmed in a 2022 poll, when 54% favoured merger with the EU[12]], would indicate that even some Protestants would be inclined towards reunification of Ireland.

The EU position appears to go further, and look even to Scotland. Donald Tusk, who had excoriated those Brexiteers who did not have a plan in advance, as destined for “a special place in hell”, stirred the pot again, after demitting the office of President of the European Council. He declared that “I have no doubt everyone would be enthusiastic here in Brussels and more widely, more generally also in Europe” over the prospect of an independent Scotland seeking to rejoin the EU[13]. Scotland had voted 62:38 in favour of remaining in the EU. A new referendum on independence remains on the table, though London has made it clear that another one after the unsuccessful attempt by the Scottish Nationalist Party is not going to happen soon.

 

Summing up

 

This is the present uneasy equilibrium that has been achieved between the major influencers of the Irish Question. A study of the developments since at least the mid-1980’s, suggests that Westminster is willing to let go of Northern Ireland, if that is the wish of the majority there. Brexit was not the trigger for this, contrary to much writing on the subject. The sustained campaign, since the early 20th century, added to the demographic changes, would have made this unavoidable in any case. But some of the implications of reunification of the island of Ireland would undoubtedly negative for the UK. Added to this is the economic implications of Brexit. The push for Brexit in the UK – narrow though it was – was understandable because of the efforts from Brussels to control the functioning of capital markets in the early 2010’s, with its negative effect on the City. This last was one of the prime movers for the UK joining the EU in the early 1970’s, when financial markets were taking off on the back of rocketing oil prices, and the breakdown of the Bretton Woods disciplines[14].

Britain’s economic performance has not been particularly good since it left the EU in 2021, but it is probably too early to be able to quantify the consequences, as some economic institutions have done – and pronounced it a setback of varying degrees of seriousness. In reality, though, its bilateral efforts at trade arrangements have made only limited progress since Brexit in 2016. Agreements with India and the US remain elusive, though they have been worked out with Australia and New Zealand. For some reason, the UK Government has also decided that a return to EFTA, which it left in 1973, is ruled out, though it would offer a way forward, both for trading with the EU and with India on preferential terms.

The UK has also moved quickly to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership [CP-TPP]. It applied as early as February 2021, almost immediately after the formal break with the EU. Negotiations took their usual leisurely pace, but they are done now, and the necessary documentation is complete; only the required number of ratifications by CP-TPP member states remains, and should happen soon enough. This would give the UK an entry on preferential terms into a dynamic growth area, and this is something they could not have done while still in the EU.

The graph below[15] covers UK GDP since the end of the Second World War – it shows no discernible down-trend since Brexit. This, of course, must be taken in context: it is only three years since the UK left the EU, and the trend will become clearer only with some more time.

 


 

 

Another caveat would be in order: all these data and related economic conclusions must be drawn keeping in mind the effects of the Wuhan virus pandemic, and the high interest rate environment among most of the major economies in the world. Both these have had the effect of depressing the rates of growth of GDP and trade; one more reason for waiting some time before drawing any firm conclusions. But what can be said is that the dire predictions made by the more globalised outlets have failed to materialise.

As for the City of London, a major driver of the UK economy [it contributes 10% of the UK GDP], the early fears of gloom over the City have proved overdone. In terms of the foreign exchange trade, London leads the world, with about 33% of the global market[16]; the daily turnover on the foreign exchange markets is $7 trillion. Listings are down a bit, as they are in all markets around the world, except in New York. Cross-border trade finance remains buoyant, though there has been some haemorrhaging as far as European trade is concerned[17].

Important elections from this point of view are coming up later this year – in the US in November and the UK itself in December. Both could affect the way things evolve, equally with respect to Ireland and to the UK’s economic strategy. This could be why former President Obama was in London recently, and spent an hour with Prime Minister Sunak – to discuss Artificial Intelligence, if press reports are to be believed.

But there is another angle, which would require the presence of a person of Obama’s calibre to visit the British Prime Minister: reference has already been made to President Biden’s negativity/hostility towards Britain. Add to that the coming election in November and the continuing controversy over the role of the US intelligence agencies in the elections of 2016 and 2020. Britain played an important role in the actions unravelled by the Durham Report, and they would certainly know a lot more than they have let on about the role of former MI6 agent Christopher Steele. Disclosure of the details of these activities could spike the already doubtful prospects for President Biden winning a second term. However, having burned his bridges with Prime Minister Sunak, President Biden could probably not hope for a cooperative attitude from London; Obama could.

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

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