There will be no Brexit: Irish border mess shows why clean UK break is impossible

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
There will be no Brexit: Irish border mess shows why clean UK break is impossible
The Battle of the Boyne may have taken place in 1690, but it has cast a long shadow across both Great Britain and Ireland. Now, 328 years later, it threatens to scupper English dreams of leaving the EU.

I think I can tell you the exact moment Brexit died. It was June 26, 2017: the day the British Conservatives made a pathetic little deal with Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to stay in power.

The very moment Theresa May shook hands with Arlene Foster in Downing Street, 'Little Englanders' dreams were dashed. And, barring a few exceptions, none of them fully understood the stupidity of the Prime Minister’s actions at the time. And, over eight months later, very few even get it now.

Because the DUP defy all modern, Western, political logic. They are a party supported by people willing to sacrifice their own economic and social self-interests in order to maintain a status quo that impoverishes them and leaves their region divided, backward and in terminal decline. And all because of a conflict their forefathers won in 1690: known as the “Battle of the Boyne.”

Back then, forces led by Dutch King William of Orange and his German sidekick Frederick Schomberg defeated the armies of the English King James and Irish military leader Richard Talbott in the County Meath townland of Oldbridge. The outcome was a victory for Protestantism over Catholicism, and it also meant James would be the last English monarch with an allegiance to Rome.

A Giant Hangover

And, while the rest of Ireland (and Britain) has long since moved on, the DUP’s electorate, and its leadership, just can’t let it go. Even today, they cannot countenance getting closer to an Irish state where the vast majority of citizens are ethnically Catholic, even if most, outside of weddings and funerals, haven’t seen the inside of a church for years.

And this is what has destroyed any hope of a real Brexit. Because in a normal world, Northern Ireland’s largest party would agree on the most rational solution to the Irish border question. That is, to make the Irish sea the customs frontier and allow the good people of Ulster to enjoy the benefits of the common market and open trade access to their larger, and vastly more prosperous, southern neighbour.

After all, that is what folks actually voted for. Yes, you read that right, by a considerable majority (56% to 44%), the statelet’s electorate rejected Brexit. Most likely because they knew that any prospect of a border with the south was suicidal. Which, of course, it is.

But the DUP don’t care. And don’t expect them to budge, either. For the same reason that despite oodles of scientific evidence proving the contrary, most of the party’s leaders believe the world is only 6,000 years old. And if the discovery of billion-year-old fossils can’t force them to concede that point, they won’t relent on anything that they perceive as diluting as their position in the United Kingdom.

There was only one reason May chose the DUP as coalition partners, and it was desperation. The Prime Minister shot herself in the foot by calling, and almost losing, a snap election, and her only option to remain in office was to get in bed with the Ulster extremists. Thus, the Tories chucked £1 billion at their new comrades and agreed to "never be neutral in expressing support" for the Union (of Britain and the north of Ireland), words which immediately dismantled London’s status as a neutral, non-partisan actor under the Belfast Agreement: a 1998 treaty that ended a 30-year civil war in the United Kingdom.

Shake Hands with the Devil

Today, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, claims he’s trying to protect peace with his position on the UK/Ireland Common Travel Area. And British pundits are all at sea, trying to find a compromise. As journalist Paul Mason has put it, “In (the) Tory bubble - a kind of golf clubhouse of the mind - the Republic is pictured as a rural backwater - not (a) vibrant globalist economy…In fact, all Irish business, banks and politicians ask me: do these ****ers understand modern Ireland? Mainly no.”

“To be clear,” Mason adds. "May has signed up to an economically united Ireland, but (is) relying on sectarian loons of DUP to stay in power… so the fantasy of hard Brexit crystallises around the fantasy of Eire (sic) “reuniting” somehow w(ith the) UK, or folding in the negotiations… The Tory golf club vision of Ireland - where half the population of NI (the north of Ireland) don’t matter and (Ireland)  is just (a) neo-colony, just collided with reality.”

In December, May agreed that there would be no hard border between the two Irish jurisdictions. And the EU spent a couple of months enshrining the deal in legal text while London disappeared into a fog of wishful thinking. Now, the onus is on the British to offer a solution, but instead of engaging, they are just foaming at the mouth towards Brussels. Or they are talking down to Irish people, who are flabbergasted at how a country that once boasted a very capable and tricky establishment, ended up with the current rabble.

Tuesday evening on British state TV offered a case in point. Neale Richmond, a senator from Dublin’s governing Fine Gael party, was bombarded with angry questions by BBC anchor Evan Davis. The hapless politician  sat wide-eyed as the English host berated him with increasing desperation. Indeed, you half expected him to exclaim: “alas, poor Yorick, I knew those Paddies, fellows of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. They hath borne me on their back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!"

The following afternoon, at Prime Minister’s Questions, May appeared to insist that there would be no hard border in Ireland and also no hard border between Britain and Northern Ireland. But she also claimed there would be no customs union between the UK and the EU. However, it’s impossible for all three of these scenarios to happen.

Right now, Dublin has the upper hand. It’s backed by every other EU state that isn’t the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party sniffs blood because the DUP won’t accept any fudge that separates them from the rest of Britain. And this is why there will be no Brexit.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.