A titanic success? Belfast sees both sides of Brexit deal

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A titanic success? Belfast sees both sides of Brexit deal
This file photo taken on March 04, 2017, shows a section of the The Peace wall, between the Catholic Falls road and the Protestant Shankill road in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 4, 2017. The city of Belfast teems with metaphors of heroic failure and tragic triumph -- a fact not lost on those mulling Brexit developments in the shadow of the shipyard that birthed the Titanic. With a Brexit deal in the works, the city might use that ability to find an upside to a split it is widely thought will damage the province. Paul FAITH / AFP.

by Joe Stenson

BELFAST (AFP).- Belfast's Titanic Quarter is a hotspot of tourist development in the Northern Ireland capital, rising from the docks where the ill-fated ship of the same name was built and launched.

The museum, penthouses and events centre that have sprung up in the shadow of canary yellow shipyard cranes are a clear sign that the city with a troubled past can spin gold from straw.

It may also find an upside to Brexit -- which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson once promised to make a "titanic success" -- despite concerns about its impact locally.

"I can be pretty cynical but with big things like that there's going to be winners and losers," said finance worker Michael McGrath after Johnson struck a deal with the European Union.

"You do feel for the losers but some people pick themselves up as well," he told AFP.

British MPs in London vote on the agreement on Saturday and with Johnson in charge of a minority government, there is still a chance parliament could sink his deal.

People in Northern Ireland, where a majority voted to remain in the EU in the landmark 2016 vote, will be watching keenly.

"I watch it keenly but with just a little bit of despair because we have zero control over what's happening, so it's almost a soap opera," said McGrath.

Cautious welcome
Johnson's deal has been welcomed for potentially providing a solution to the status of Northern Ireland, especially avoiding changes to its "invisible" border with EU member Ireland.

The open border satisfied pro-Irish republicans and unionists in favour of retaining British rule in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of sectarian violence.

The deal proposes Northern Ireland leaves the EU legally yet at the same time remains aligned to the bloc in areas such as food standards, and follows VAT rules.

With one eye on business, even pro-remain taxi driver Gerry Loughlin said he could see some advantages.

"The deal that has been done, it will allow the business community to move forward," he said outside Belfast City Hall.

"That will be a relief to the business community -- if the deal goes through."

Loughlin provides tours of the former hotspots of violence in Belfast, including the "peace walls" that sprung up between neighbourhoods during the worst years of "The Troubles".

More than 3,500 people killed and thousands more killed by bombs and bullets in the unrest.

But the tours are yet another reminder that people can find ways to make a living around divisive issues and difficult circumstances.

Northern Ireland's Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) greeted the new deal with a "cautious welcome".

FSB Northern Ireland policy chair Tina McKenzie said it must be "welcomed as a potential pathway to a deal" before the October 31 deadline.

"The alternative -- a 'no-deal' outcome -- would cause significant disruption to our economy, not least to small businesses, so it is of paramount importance that that is avoided."

Brexit is coming?
The fantasy epic "Game of Thrones" was filmed in studios at the Titanic Quarter. Some have found parallels between it and the long-running Brexit saga.

The most recent plot twist was the Democratic Unionist Party's last-minute refusal to accept the deal, after Johnson's change of position.

The pro-British DUP had previously been assured the government's proposals would not put a border in the Irish Sea, arguing it would cast Northern Ireland adrift.

Pensioner Anne Allen feared betrayal as she headed for a haircut near the "Game of Thrones" studios.

"There's over a million unionist people, you know people forget that, and we don't count anymore," she said with resignation. "I hope they haven't sold us down the river."

What the DUP does in parliament on Saturday is being keenly watched. Its 10 MPs in London have propped up Johnson and his Conservative party in parliament.

Johnson could be at their mercy if he fails to garner sufficient cross-party support elsewhere.

"I don't think he can do anything," said Allen.

But there is a sense Johnson is now on an election footing -- which might see him snatch victory from any parliamentary defeat.The premier is legally obliged to ask the EU for an extension if parliament votes against his deal.

He will then likely seek an election, hoping to gain a majority on the basis that he has been blocked from delivering Brexit by naysayers.

"I think he just wants to make a name for himself," Allen sighed before heading on her way.

© Agence France-Presse

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