Brexit, the Irish border and deceitful politics in Dublin and Brussels

Brexit, the Irish border and deceitful politics in Dublin and Brussels

Neutrality towards the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan to lock the UK into an EU customs union is crumbling. Two Cabinet ministers have resigned, with other senior and junior resignations coming in. Already Chequers, the ‘half in, half out’ scheme, had provoked the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, with voters polling two to one against the plan and many MPs opposing it.

But this week’s formal 585-page draft deal goes further. The UK would have no say over many of the laws under which it is governed. It would also be locked into a customs union (‘single customs territory’) with the EU under the Single Market rule book, potentially forever. With no legally binding exit day, no means agreed to end the backstop written into the treaty, Britain, as Ireland’s Sunday Business Post claimed last weekend, is in reality ‘on track to stay in the customs union forever because it will not be able to achieve a better deal with the EU’.

Although it is alleged that only such a route would preserve a soft Irish border, the claim is no more than a pretext, a political fraud in which the leaders of both Ireland and the UK have been complicit with the EU. In fact, the EU has made clear from the start that reducing the UK and its economy to the EU’s ‘level playing field’ and so to subservience is the long-term aim.

The Prime Minister came to accept the long-term advice of her chief negotiators that economic ‘alignment’ with the EU and remaining in a quasi-customs union was a must. EU demands to uphold the soft Irish border have turned out to be a very useful whitewash for the breach of promises involved in accepting such an arrangement. Now that the political battle is to the fore, such deceit should be revealed for what it is. Whether there is or is not to be a deal, no one believes with any seriousness that there can be a return to a hard border in Ireland when Britain leaves the EU.

Not only has the UK made clear it will not instigate one, but international trade has moved on to technological borders, advocated not only by the WTO but by the EU, and proposed by the UK for the Irish border as far back as 2017. In fact the militarised 1970s borders, the barbed wired, sentry posts, police checks and shootings have been consigned to the films of the Soviet era – or the footage of the 20th century Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Militant IRA, of which Sinn Fein was the political arm in those days, used bombs, booby traps and bullets in guerrilla warfare to reach the goal of an ‘all Ireland’ republic, while equally militant Loyalists took to the gun to prevent it. Then the state and its police force were thought by many moderate nationalists to be a vehicle of repression. Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement followed, as did the outbreaks of violence and repression and over time the negotiation, ‘agreements’, stalled talks with interventions from both UK and Dublin governments.

The 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, which recognised Northern Ireland’s status could only change by the ballot box, proposed a power sharing executive, to which nine years later the Reverend Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, the two totemic symbols of orange and green militancy and the apartheid of their communities, signed up. By then, Paisley’s DUP and Adams’ Sinn Fein were the biggest parties in the elected Assembly.

Adams agreed to end the military ‘campaign’ in 2005, calling instead for peaceful means to establish Ireland’s unity and calling on the IRA to dump arms. He sealed the deal by camping his Sinn Fein tanks on the lawns of Dublin’s parliament, Dail Eireann, to which he was elected in 2011. Having positioned Sinn Fein to be ‘the only All Ireland Party’ and a socialist republican anti-imperialist party, it now has 23 seats in the Irish Dail to (the nationalist) Fianna Fail’s 44, while Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael won 50 seats.

Sinn Fein therefore is a potential rival in the political battle being played out with Brussels to win Ireland’s voters. Fine Gael aims at the elites and metropolitan classes and younger voters with their unquestioning europhile sentiment. Sinn Fein aims at the anti-establishment and those left behind in Varadkar’s new Ireland in rural or inner-city Fianna Fail and Labour strongholds.

Varadkar, modernising and europhile, is pitched against Adams’ successor Mary Lou McDonald, a radical, republican former MEP. Both are ready to play whatever it takes to win on EU terms, even if in the process they destroy their country’s close economic, social and historical ties to the UK.

Instead of falling in with the ploys of Brussels to manacle the UK economy and prevent a true Brexit, Britain’s leaders should respect their own voters. In that way they will also help the stability of their neighbouring island, the victim of a misleading EU campaign accommodated by Dublin’s warring leaders.