Don’t listen to the Brexiteer bluff – Ireland is not to blame for their disaster

A vicious, coordinated assault on Ireland will not distract from the reckless path Boris Johnson and his allies are pursuing

Ben Kelly
Thursday 01 August 2019 13:50
Boris Johnson: The Brexit backstop is dead

The Brexiteers have always said that their main aim is to “take back control”. What they clearly don’t want to take back is responsibility.

For long enough, they sat back and let Theresa May’s government take the wheel, happy to jeer and shake their fists from the back seat. Now that they themselves are in the front, the Remainers can no longer be posed as public enemy number one. They have very quickly been replaced by Ireland.

Ireland didn’t ask for Brexit, let alone a catastrophic no deal, but if you’ve been following the rhetoric of the new Conservative government, their DUP partners, and the right-wing press, you would be forgiven for thinking that the looming threat of 31 October was all Dublin’s fault.

Ireland, as part of the EU, agreed a withdrawal agreement with the UK. At the heart of this is the plan for a future trade agreement is to keep an open Irish border – something which both sides want.

That border, drawn when Britain partitioned Ireland almost 100 years ago, has been at the heart of our troubled history. It is a magnet for republican violence. Its softening through our mutual membership of the EU was a blessing. We cannot go back to the way things were.

The backstop was the answer. It was a unique solution to a unique problem, and there is no other way of solving the complexities that Brexit throws up.

For some reason, the Brexiteers believed that the accession of Boris Johnson as prime minister would somehow change this fundamental fact – it does not. No amount of bravado, bluster or hair ruffling is going to solve this problem which both sides have wrestled with for almost three years.

Shortly after the changing of the guard at Downing Street, Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “Any suggestion that there would be a whole new deal negotiated in weeks or months is totally not in the real world.”

His deputy, the foreign minister Simon Coveney, also said: “I think it’s important to say very clearly, if respectfully, that the facts don’t change around Brexit.”

The Brexiteers responded to this as though they’d just been viciously bitten by a dog which in reality had merely barked from across the street. Dublin has been called “belligerent” and “inflammatory”, with Varadkar dismissed as “ill-informed and arrogant”. He and Coveney have been blasted as “little Ireland’s ridiculous leaders”. The DUP, a party not known for its ranks of shrinking violets, called on Dublin to “dial down the megaphone diplomacy”.

This is a barely concealed, coordinated effort to portray Ireland as stubborn and uncooperative, simply because they won’t concede further to Britain and their renewed, unreasonable Brexit demands. But why should they?

Ireland didn’t vote for the chaos which Britain has wrought upon these islands, although it will be unduly affected. Ireland has to stand up for Ireland – something which the Brexiteers don’t seem to understand.

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We are witnessing the ugly revival of an imperialist mindset, which has arguably never been far from the surface. The people now in charge of Britain look down on Ireland as a small, insignificant former colony, with one Tory grandee saying the country “should know their place”. The new home secretary Priti Patel literally suggested threatening us with food shortages.

These people underestimate the political solidarity and diplomatic clout Ireland has accumulated throughout the Brexit process, as it has unravelled spectacularly on the world stage.

They always thought Ireland would roll over and accept a Brexit agreed over its head between London and Brussels. They are angry to see that Brussels have instead been led by Dublin, and that they remain with us, shoulder to shoulder. Deep down, Britain knows this solidarity cannot be broken, for it is the very tenet upon which the EU is built.

For his part, Boris Johnson won’t even attempt to speak to the EU unless they first agree to ditch the backstop – an impossible ask which shows he is not serious about avoiding no deal.

If the Conservatives are being willfully ignorant with their bluster, the DUP are downright foolish in their complicity – for it is they who will have to bear the brunt of the catastrophe that a no-deal Brexit will bring to Northern Ireland; crashing the economy, stacking a political crisis upon political crisis, provoking a return to violence on a hard border, and ultimately leading to their worst nightmare – a referendum on Irish reunification.

This is not “project fear mark two” – there is ample evidence for all of the above. Not to warn about it would be utterly foolish. But as with everything in Brexit, it will be dismissed by people who have long since given up on facts and reality.

Ireland, through the EU, has offered a sensible compromise which avoids all of this. If that is rejected, it will not be Ireland’s fault.

If Boris Johnson and the DUP want to lead the UK out of the EU without a deal, sparking all the economic, social and political chaos that we know that would bring, then they must take responsibility for it.

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