If there was a logical solution to the “Northern Ireland problem” even successively and increasingly dysfunctional Conservative governments would surely have grasped it. There is a logical long term solution actually, but the consequences are unthinkable. That solution is a United Ireland.
It’s unthinkable because a significant proportion of the population of Northern Ireland think that they are British. That thought is driven not by some genuine patriotism but by the rawest “loyalist” sectarianism. Even if the majority in the province put their Irishness ahead of their Britishness (they may now do this) the Unionist minority is in no mood to compromise.
The Conservative Party has always been unionist and many of its members were unenthusiastic about the Good Friday Agreement. Some of them are close to the current Government. The reunification of Ireland will happen one day, but not under the current Government’s watch.
So there has to be compromise as there was in the GFA. But the unique cross border enlightenment which astonishingly, and admirably, had Gerry Adams in a coalition with Ian Paisley Snr cannot survive the Brexit we now have. When Britain and Ireland were together fellow members of the EU, and therefore the Single Market, all was well. But now that binding is absent.
Brexit, as negotiated, is binary in everything – not least in the island of Ireland. There is no grey area that can work. Not when the Orangemen gear up their provocative marches (or worse) there isn’t.
Britain is already suffering from its withdrawal from the Single Market and the Customs Union and aside from Ireland there are sound pragmatic reasons for a rethink. If the need for a credible solution to the NI problem is to rejoin the Single Market and the Customs Union there would be no downsides, other than a bit of loss of face by the hard core Brexiteers. It was always likely that a Norway or a Switzerland outcome would emerge.
President Biden could be the key along with our friends in Europe – we do still have some. Washington could, along with Brussels, broker an arrangement that would be WIN/WIN for Orange and Green as well as Red, White and Blue.