BNP suffers crushing defeat at the ballot box

Far-right councillors are wiped out in Barking and Dagenham; further losses nationally.

Results from the local elections are starting to come in, and it looks like the British National Party has suffered catastrophic losses, compounding the failure of its leader, Nick Griffin, to win a seat in Westminster.

In Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP was previously the second-largest party, all 12 of its councillors have lost their seats. That includes the former party group leader Bob Bailey, who was filmed fighting in the street two days ago, and Richard Barnbrook, who was suspended from the council last year for making false claims about murders in the borough.

It is a crushing defeat for the far-right party, which many feared would seize full control of the council on 6 May. However, a concerted effort by anti-fascist campaigners ensured a high turnout and voters overwhelmingly backed Labour candidates on the day.

Elsewhere in the country, the prominent BNP councillor Chris Beverley lost his seat on Leeds City Council. The party has also lost councillors in Stoke-on-Trent, which Griffin once described as the BNP's "jewel in the crown".

The defeat is likely to intensify the internal conflicts that have beset the party in recent months. Far-right activists, commenting on the white power Stormfront internet forum, have already criticised Griffin's election strategy and called for him to go.

In a message to supporters, Griffin urged his party not to lose heart after a "bruising" election campaign and stressed that the coming months would provide an opportunity for "a massive overhaul of our political machinery". Perhaps in order to head off criticism of his leadership, he offered this advice:

If someone tells you a piece of "shocking" internal gossip which clearly is aimed at undermining the people now working to propel the party forward, then you need to treat such lies with the contempt they deserve.

Nick Lowles, who ran the anti-fascist Hope not Hate campaign, said:

We mobilised in a way our country had never seen before. In fact, in just the past few weeks, almost a thousand volunteers have joined us in Barking and Dagenham to deliver over 350,000 pieces of literature, and nearly 300 volunteers came to Stoke-on-Trent to distribute leaflets and knock on doors to turn out the anti-BNP vote.

Last year's BNP victory was not in our name -- but last night's BNP defeat certainly was. We made the world a better place.

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Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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An Irish Sea border – and 3 other tricky options for Northern Ireland after Brexit

There is no easy option for Northern Ireland after Brexit. 

Deciding on post-Brexit border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is becoming an issue for which the phrase "the devil is in the detail" could have been coined. Finding a satisfactory solution that delivers a border flexible enough not to damage international trade and commerce and doesn’t undermine the spirit, or the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement settlement is foxing Whitehall’s brightest.

The dial seemed to have settled on David Davis’s suggestion that there could be a "digital border" with security cameras and pre-registered cargo as a preferred alternative to a "hard border" replete with checkpoints and watchtowers.

However the Brexit secretary’s suggestion has been scotched by the new Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, who says electronic solutions are "not going to work". Today’s Times quotes him saying that "any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process" and that there is a need to ensure the "free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods".

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made dealing with the Irish border question one of his top three priorities before discussions on trade deals can begin. British ministers are going to have to make-up their minds which one of four unpalatable options they are going to choose:

1. Hard border

The first is to ignore Dublin (and just about everybody in Northern Ireland for that matter) and institute a hard border along the 310-mile demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Given it takes in fields, rivers and forests it’s pretty unenforceable without a Trump-style wall. More practically, it would devastate trade and free movement. Metaphorically, it would be a powerful symbol of division and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Police Federation in Northern Ireland has also warned it would make police officers "sitting ducks for terrorists". Moreover, the Irish government will never agree to this course. With the EU in their corner, there is effectively zero chance of this happening.

2. Northern EU-land

The second option is to actually keep Northern Ireland inside the EU: offering it so-called "special status". This would avoid the difficulty of enforcing the border and even accord with the wishes of 56 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate who voted to Remain in the EU. Crucially, it would see Northern Ireland able to retain the £600m a year it currently receives from the EU. This is pushed by Sinn Fein and does have a powerful logic, but it would be a massive embarrassment for the British Government and lead to Scotland (and possibly London?) demanding similar treatment.

3. Natural assets

The third option is that suggested by the Irish government in the Times story today, namely a soft border with customs and passport controls at embarkation points on the island of Ireland, using the Irish Sea as a hard border (or certainly a wet one). This option is in play, if for no other reason than the Irish government is suggesting it. Again, unionists will be unhappy as it requires Britain to treat the island of Ireland as a single entity with border and possibly customs checks at ports and airports. There is a neat administrate logic to it, but it means people travelling from Northern Ireland to "mainland" Britain would need to show their passports, which will enrage unionists as it effectively makes them foreigners.

4. Irish reunification

Unpalatable as that would be for unionists, the fourth option is simply to recognise that Northern Ireland is now utterly anomalous and start a proper conversation about Irish reunification as a means to address the border issue once and for all. This would see both governments acting as persuaders to try and build consent and accelerate trends to reunify the island constitutionally. This would involve twin referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic (a measure allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement). Given Philip Hammond is warning that transitional arrangements could last three years, this might occur after Brexit in 2019, perhaps as late as the early 2020s, with interim arrangements in the meantime. Demographic trends pointing to a Catholic-nationalist majority in Northern Ireland would, in all likelihood require a referendum by then anyway. The opportunity here is to make necessity the mother of invention, using Brexit to bring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to a head and deal decisively with the matter once and for all.

In short, ministers have no easy options, however time is now a factor and they will soon have to draw the line on, well, drawing the line.

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office and author of "A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about"

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.