Anna Fenton-Jones, BA Middle Eastern Studies
Beck accused the EU of ‘concocting the issue of the Irish backstop
Dr. Gunnar Beck, a lecturer in Law at SOAS and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has suggested that introducing customs checks at the Irish border as part of a potential Brexit deal is unlikely to lead to an increase in paramilitary violence. Dr. Beck was elected to the European Parliament (EP) in May, and has since become a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.
Speaking in the EP on September 18th, Dr. Beck asked ‘But who seriously believes that sporadic or electronic customs checks will lead to the resurgence of violent terror in Ireland? Not even Michel Barnier, who is trying to use the backstop to keep Britain in a permanent customs union or to force a referendum.’
Dr. Beck made these claims in a speech accusing the EU of ‘resisting an amicable divorce’ with the UK by ‘concocting the issue of an Irish backstop.’ The backstop has proved to be the biggest sticking point in the negotiations between the EU and the UK, with anti-EU Conservatives citing it as their main reason for voting down both of Theresa May’s proposed deals earlier this year.
His comments came just days before a new Garda Síochána (Irish Police Force) Armed Support Unit began policing the border regions in the Republic of Ireland. Speaking to the BBC in September, the police said it was a necessary measure in the run up to Brexit to target ‘the increase in cross-border criminality and dissident activity.’ By April 2020, the Police Service of Northern Ireland are also expected to recruit more than 300 extra police officers to prepare for Brexit.
Figures released by the PSNI this month reveal that paramilitary-style assaults have risen in the past 3 years, with the number of murders trebling since 2016. In April, journalist Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead in Londonderry during riots that broke out after police carried out raids on suspected terrorist sympathisers. The dissident republican group the New IRA later admitted responsibility for the killing and apologised to her family.
After 3 separate violent incidents in August, including a murder of a man with loyalist paramilitary links in County Down, the PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne warned that uncertainty over the border could lead to a of reanimation of paramiliatry groups. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme Byrne expressed fear over the “tempo and pace” of recent attacks. However he also said the current lack of any political leadership in Northern Ireland was creating a “breeding ground for dissident hate”.