Another Bloody Sunday?

Written By: Hugh Gault
Published: March 5, 2018 Last modified: March 5, 2018

The government could have chosen Sunday 31 March 2019 as the date for leaving the EU. Instead they have agreed the previous Friday 29 March 2019 – assuming it happens at all.

So far, so logical, for it might be preferable to exit on a weekday or even on the last trading day before a weekend. It would be entirely in keeping with this government’s priority of putting business and trade before people and workers’ rights. Though leaving at all, of course, makes no sense to many.

However, there may be another reason too – especially for a Conservative government determined to put party preservation above national interest and not do anything that might give the remain half of the country the opportunity of another open goal.

There are many dates known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in history. As the name suggests, virtually all of them involved the establishment over-reacting to public demonstrations and resulted in large numbers of casualties. There must be many more when the casualties walked away but the symbolic impact was the same.

Wikipedia lists nineteen such dates between 1887 and 1991, though this means only that people have written articles on them for the website, not that they are a comprehensive list of those that occurred. They omit, for example, Dublin’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1913 (pictured) when the police weighed into strikers seeking union recognition and demonstrating for this against the employer lockout that meant they and their families starved.

Three others on the list come from Irish history: 1920 when the British army fired on the crowd at Croke Park watching gaelic football during the war of independence from Britain; that in Belfast a year later; and most famously the 1972 atrocity in Derry when civil rights demonstrators were fired on by the British army.

That so many come from Irish history may be appropriate given the illusion the Tory Cabinet seems determined to pursue that it is possible to avoid the return of a border in Ireland while staying out of a customs union with the EU. Of course, without any border at all, what is to stop EU citizens from crossing into this sovereign nation, should they wish to do so and despite the increasing evidence that since the foot-shooting referendum the exodus exceeds the inflow?

So a border is not just about trade – though there may be little enough of that anyway. Dr Fox and his colleagues assert that the rest of the world is queuing up to do free trade deals with us. That is because they see us as a new market they can exploit, sorry ‘export to’. Their interest is in increasing their exports, not our’s. In any case, what will we be able to offer in return that Canada, Australia, the USA, etc. do not already have? Certainly not the services currently domiciled in Britain that will flee to Europe so that they can continue to sell to our nearest neighbours? International companies based in London will put their interests before the country’s, indeed have a duty to their shareholders to do so.

Emerging markets in China, India, Brazil might be different of course, but does anybody seriously think that they will replace the mature markets we already sell to? And by ‘emerging’ is meant slowly, even generationally. Percentage growth may be impressive but that is from a very low base; the actual figures are much less striking and do not begin to compare with the markets we already sell to in Europe.

Two of the Bloody Sundays on the wikipedia list are from England: 1887 when there was ‘a combined police and military attack on a demonstration in London against British repression in Ireland’ and 1911 at the height of the transport strike in Liverpool. Canada, Germany Poland, Turkey are among the other countries that have such outrages in the list.

Key themes that you will be able to discern and have topical connections include ‘might is right’, bullying and the abuse of power.

Both the Peterloo massacre in 1819 and the 1848 Chartist demonstration happened on a Monday, so it is not inevitable that prospects should be dashed on a Sunday. On the other hand, the EU was established to avoid a repeat of the second world war for, as Jean Monnet one of the founders, said, “We are not forming coalitions of states, we are uniting men.”

This is an objective it has notably achieved, so perhaps it is appropriate after all that a Friday has been chosen, however inadvertently, to mark yet another cataclysm in this country’s relations with its neighbours.