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30 Apr, 2019 16:43

Hypocrites for Ireland: The border that should never have been drawn

Hypocrites for Ireland: The border that should never have been drawn

'Any port in a storm' is the watchword of those who defy the democratic mandate won by Brexit in 2016.

Whether it's frightening old ladies with tales of unavailable medicine if Britain reverts to trading with the EU27 on the same basis as most of the rest of the world, or spooking the healthy over a shortage of apples (though most people never eat one). But the most enduring has been the border between Ireland and the British colony of just six counties in the northeast of Ireland.

Though that colony has long ceased to have any strategic or economic purpose for Britain, its potential loss to the Crown has achieved iconic status for the Tory backwoodsmen driving Brexit at Westminster, and to British and European liberals alike. Surprisingly, the Irish republicans who have fought tirelessly for the re-unification of their small island for centuries are now much exercised by it too. In truth, England's difficulty over Brexit is Ireland's opportunity. Irish unity is much more likely to come about because of Brexit, and sooner than anyone can have imagined.

The proximate cause is the decision of the citizens of the north to remain in the EU, whilst the majority in the British state voted to leave. They did this despite the hardline unity-with-Britain parties – principally the DUP – campaigning hard for Brexit. The formerly viscerally anti-EU Sinn Fein was on the winning side in the north despite its support base being in a (narrowing) minority in the gerrymandered statelet. Thus, if people in the north want to remain in the European Union, the solution is obvious and achievable by democratic means – a border poll as provided for in the internationally agreed Good Friday Agreement – and the reunification of their country.

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From the point of view of the Brexiteers in Britain, this would do away with the "backstop," which has prevented agreement in parliament, and draw the border between Britain and Ireland (and the EU) where it always should have been – down the middle of the Irish Sea. The league of empire loyalists in the Tory Party, who cannot accept this and yet want a clean Brexit, are thus hoist with their own petard.

I have known the opposition Labour Party spokesman on Northern Ireland, Tony Lloyd, for more than 30 years as both an inveterate opponent of the EU and a vociferous champion of Irish unity. Extraordinarily, he has also now ruled out any incoming Labour government agreeing to such a border poll – despite the fact that his leader Jeremy Corbyn could in the past not have been closer to Irish republicanism! This decision is presumably driven by the forlorn hope that the DUP will one day side with Labour in a no-confidence vote in the Conservative government.

And so for a variety of historical and opportunistic reasons, Ireland has become the battlefield of all battlefields in Britain's Brexit struggle with the EU over withdrawal. But both stage-armies are deploying straw-men.

"No hard border" goes the cry. But nobody will build a hard border, certainly not the British (for whom it would be a breach of the GFA). Certainly not the Irish government in Dublin. Would the EU really build a hard border in Ireland? Pigs would fly across it first.

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"Brexit is helping the dissident IRA" is the latest canard. In fact, there has been dissident IRA violence in the north since the Omagh massacre not long after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and it has never stopped since. Dissident republicans, in any case, cling to the previous republican position of withdrawal from the EU – they didn't get the memos ending the war or accepting Brussels rule.

The Irish version of Project Fear is no less synthetic than the British version. Most Irish people would trade British rule for the EU. Most British people would leave the EU even if the "price" was the loss of their second last (after Gibraltar) European colony. You don't need to be Metternich to work out a solution to that conundrum.

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