Jonathan Powell reminded us of Boris Johnson’s pledge to the DUP that he would never agree to a border in the Irish Sea, only to do precisely that when he negotiated the Northern Ireland protocol to “get Brexit done” (“Peace in Northern Ireland is in danger – Johnson’s lies and inaction offer no help”, Comment). Loyalists in Northern Ireland feel betrayed and we are witnessing the consequences playing out in rising anger and violence. The protocol is now enshrined in legislation and all interested parties have an obligation to make it work in order to reduce the tensions it is causing.
However, there is one stumbling block: Johnson’s stubborn refusal to admit that there is an effective trade border in the Irish Sea. In addition to lying to the DUP, he continues to lie to himself. Until Johnson accepts the reality of what the protocol means in practice, and stops playing cowardly political games, there is little chance of making it work as it should and the unrest will continue.
Jonathan Powell is right to draw attention to the many causes of rioting in Belfast, but he neglects to mention some of the flaws in the architecture of the Good Friday agreement, chiefly that it reinforces a voting system based on a sectarian head count in order to push the more extreme parties into the forced marriage of a compulsory coalition.
One might expect the UK Labour party, to which I belong, to be at the forefront of arguing for measures to counter the social and economic disadvantage Powell identifies, but it does not let our own members in Northern Ireland stand for election. This is defended on the disingenuous grounds that having the odd Labour councillor in Newry or Armagh would prevent it taking a non-partisan position at Westminster. Neocolonialism or just hypocrisy?
Pity us republicans
You might be right that Prince Philip “deserves respect and acclaim for the positive impact he had on Britain” (“For the Queen, a beloved partner. For the nation, a fine servant”, Editorial). Surely, however, those of us who find everything about the royal family anachronistic and embarrassing are also entitled to be heard. The BBC shut down its complaints page about the blanket coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, despite being bombarded with complaints.
Maybe it is the fate of the many republicans, like myself, to have to endure being gaslit by the BBC about our supposed love of all things royal, especially while we have a populist Conservative prime minister and a frightened corporation.
Australia’s stranded citizens
Robin McKie points to the example of Australia and its success in containing coronavirus by rapid closure of its borders (“Is vaccination enough? What we can learn from other countries”, News). Before we look down under in admiration, however, we should be aware that there are still tens of thousands of Australians stranded abroad since last year, after the country brought in a strict quota policy for arrivals from abroad.
One couple I know, visiting in February 2020 to see family here, suffered a flight cancellation home and were then caught by the quota. They are still in the UK. They have run out of money and visa time, and are dependent on the overstretched resources of the NHS. A group of stranded citizens have now taken matters into their own hands and are taking a case to the UN human rights committee. I am amazed that this part of the Australian government policy has not received more publicity; I don’t think I would want to live in a country that wouldn’t let me come home.
Make yourself comfrey
James Wong is right to say that plants “mainly require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium” as fertiliser, but doesn’t mention comfrey “tea” (“Some home truths about DIY fertilisers”, Magazine). The comfrey plant draws up essential minerals and transfers them to its leaves. Cut these as they grow and let them decompose in a perforated container that is placed in another, or directly over the rain butt. Dilute the resultant liquid 1:10 and water everything, especially tomatoes. Lay the stalks between rows of potatoes to extract the maximum goodness and enjoy watching bees feed on the flowers. I wish I had a £1 for every time I’ve given this advice to new plot-holders on the allotment.
So much for a caring society
As the father of a young adult with Down’s syndrome, I firmly support Barbara Ellen’s concern about contributions to care being increased (“What kind of society leaves a disabled person with £3 a day?”, Comment). My son received two disability premiums in addition to his standard benefit. Immediately, the entirety of these premiums was swallowed up in the contribution to his care from the local authority. The result was a rise of just over 20% in the proportion of his overall benefit which now goes towards that contribution.
In the interests of developing his level of independence, he has moved to supported living. Finances are a key element in being able to do this but this laudable aim has been frustrated by this unfair decision. Two letters sent to the Department of Health and Social Care met with no response; they are “not currently dealing with individual enquiries”. This seems to be a denial of democratic accountability.
Merley, Wimborne, Dorset
The value of faint praise
Tim Adams’s piece reminded me of the life-enhancing influence of strictly rationed praise (Notebook, Comment). In 1949, at my very selective school, I competed in the under-14 instrumental class in the inter-house music competition. My then form master, the relentlessly austere and unbending Mr Bridge (nephew of the composer Frank Bridge), had donated the Bridge Cup, awarded to the winning house. I duly played my piece on the violin in front of the assembled school. As I returned to my place, Mr Bridge beckoned to me with crooked finger. “Hitchin!” he growled. “Now what have I done?” I thought, inwardly quaking. Then he said: “I’ve heard worse.” I made my way back to my seat walking on air. I’ve never forgotten that moment.
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire