Rethinking Europe

How the UK Always Plays Ireland

The Brexit episode is but the latest historical episode proving that the UK’s political rhetoric is just self-serving when it comes to Irish matters.

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Takeaways


  • Growing up in Ireland, I always found it puzzling that the most northerly part of Ireland geographically is in the south politically.
  • The “Irish Troubles” were actually the British Troubles, though never referred to that way in the British media.
  • Brexiteers claimed they could ditch the single market and customs union and there would be no hard border and no hard feelings. Utter tosh -- Brexit means Brexit.
  • Some British politicians claimed falsely that Brexit would restore Westminster sovereignty. Britain never lost sovereignty in the EU, nor more than it did in NATO.
  • This is the first post-Brexit row taking place pre-Brexit. An Ireland backed by other EU members against an isolated Britain. It can only have one outcome.

Growing up in Ireland, I always found it puzzling that the most northerly part of Ireland geographically is in the south politically. The most northerly part of Ireland is in Donegal, which is in the Republic of Ireland, not in Northern Ireland.

The paradoxes don’t end there. The “Irish Troubles” – so called because the Irish proved an unruly bunch when faced with British oppression – were actually the British Troubles, though never referred to that way in the British media.

It was bizarre: Those that claimed that Northern Ireland was as much a part of Britain as Somerset and Yorkshire were always quick to say that the violence was an Irish problem, not a British one.

This underscores that the Irish situation was always good at highlighting selective thinking in Westminster, the citadels of political power in the UK.

“No hard border”

Little surprise that it should be so with the Brexit vote. There may have been reasons for it, but consideration of Ireland was not one of them. And it shows. “No hard border” was the refrain. A classic case of having your cake and eating it too.

Hard Brexiteers claimed they could ditch the single market and customs union. Still, there would be no hard border and no hard feelings.

Utter tosh. Brexit means Brexit. This day has been coming. Northern Ireland looks set to remain in the same customs and regulatory regime as the Republic of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland is staying in the EU. Northern Ireland will leave the EU when Britain does but not in the same manner. You see, it isn’t the same as Yorkshire and Somerset.

There is of course a supreme irony here. Some British politicians claimed falsely that Brexit would restore Westminster sovereignty. Britain never actually lost sovereignty in the EU, nor more than it did in NATO or other trade alliances. In actual fact, it is the EU which is protecting Irish sovereignty.

Forget the formulation of words such as “continued regulatory alignment.” The CRA means simply that countries trade under the same obligations and regulations.

Only two scenarios are realistically possible

The first: Northern Ireland stays in the customs union and Britain leaves. This means an internal UK customs border, between Northern Ireland and British ports. A border in the sea, not on the island of Ireland.

The second: The UK stays in the customs union.

For one of the combatants, this fight is almost unfair. A small island being bullied by a larger neighbor. But this is not a row between perfidious Albion and Ireland. This is the first post-Brexit row.

An Ireland backed by other EU members against an isolated Britain. It can only have one outcome. The Tory press will have a go at “ungrateful Ireland.” It has already told the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) to shut his gob.

Hard Brexiteers and their Tory press allies need headline fodder. Ireland is Britain’s best friend in the EU. Dublin will miss Britain and while it is against Brexit it wants a successful and easy departure for London. Ireland wants to continue to trade with Britain.

This dispute is not a resurrection of ancient tribalistic rivalry or enmities. Quite the opposite. It is the first political scrap of the post-Brexit era, taking place pre-Brexit. Ireland is in a stronger position because of the EU. Britain needs trade partners but it also needs allies.

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About Tom Clifford

Tom Clifford is an Irish journalist, currently based in Beijing.

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