Thursday, January 4, 2018

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Brexit Blight

Writing his Ireland Eye Column in Tribune Magazine John Coulter foresees  Brexit blight.

Ireland may about to be hit by a disaster similar to the 19th century one which forced tens of thousands to flee the island – only this time instead of a potato blight, it will be a Brexit blight.
Given the almost frantic daily utterances pouring out of Dublin, any Tory-Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deal with the European Union which does not include a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could spell economic disaster for the latter.

The DUP may only have 10 MPs at Westminster, but their votes are crucial to keeping the Tories in power and Theresa May herself in Number 10 Downing Street. But the DUP has always been a staunchly Eurosceptic party, and this is one of the main reasons UKIP never took off as a viable movement in Northern Ireland.

There are many Right-wing Unionists in Northern Ireland who view the concept of a so-called hard border as a stick with which to beat the Republic. Then again, Southern Irish politicians lamenting over the lack of a workable deal on Brexit is history repeating itself.

In spite of the global stereotype of the jolly Irish, especially March 17 on St Patrick’s Day when it seems as if everyone tries to claim an Irish heritage, the South of Ireland has been abysmal when it comes to political negotiations.

At the turn of the new millennium, the Republic could boast one of the most vibrant economies, not just in the EU, but right across the world. It was dubbed the Celtic Tiger.

Then the Tiger went bust and needed millions of euros to bail out the nation, with much of it coming from the UK. The Southern economy has crawled back onto its feet again, but now faces the Brexit bombshell – a financial crisis that could drive the Republic economically and politically to the fringes of Europe.

In 2019, when the UK leaves the EU, the Republic will commemorate the centenary of the war of independence with Britain, which led to the setting up of the Free State, the forerunner of the current Republic.

The Republican delegation agreed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which partitioned the island and sparked the bloody Irish Civil War.

Essentially, the English at those talks wiped the floor with the Irish – just as they had done earlier with the Act of Union in the 1800s and the Treaty of Limerick in the 1690s.

The DUP has backed May into a negotiating corner, but joining the Tory Prime Minister in a similar corner is the Republic. While pundits in mainland Britain may be wondering what further concessions the DUP can squeeze out of the Tories in exchange for its support, the real question is what the Republic is prepared to give up in return for a Brexit border that will keep its economy afloat.

Nationalists say that a special status is needed for Northern Ireland, given that it voted ‘remain’ in the referendum. But then other ‘Remain’ regions of the UK – especially Scotland – will also want special status. Go down this path and May’s regional headache becomes the mother of all migraines.

Like the battle cry of the Musketeers, the policy must be all for one and one for all.’ The DUP is demanding that Northern Ireland be treated like every other part of the UK, fearing that special status will signal a united Ireland by the back door. Southern politicians fear they will have to negotiate a new Anglo-Irish Treaty come 2020 because a lack of special status plus a hard border will signal the Republic needing a closer union with the UK to stay afloat financially.

The DUP tail is wagging the Tory dog at Westminster. At what point, then, does May cave in to her party rebels who want her to face down the DUP? Without DUP support, May and her Government will fall and there will be a general election.

If Jeremy Corbyn can restore Labour’s fortunes north of the English border, he may just have enough MPs to give him a slim House of Commons majority. But what are the chances of Corbyn having to rely on DUP MPs to prop up a minority Labour government?

The question then is could Corbyn persuade Sinn Fein MPs to take their seats – especially if a Labour-Sinn Fein coalition could guarantee special status for Northern Ireland?

It’s not the text of a Brexit deal that becomes crucial, but the text of the oath of allegiance to allow Sinn Fein formally into the Commons chamber. Could that be the key challenge?

John Coulter is a unionist political commentator and former Blanket columnist. 

Follow John Coulter on Twitter  @JohnAHCoulter
Dr Coulter is also author of ‘An Sais Glas: (The Green Sash): The Road to National Republicanism’, which is available on Amazon Kindle.


Steve R said...

Why would Unionists, now in an enviable position of being the only land border the UK has with the EU cut their nose off to spite their face?

If history shows anything it's the ability of Unionism to position itself to remain in influence no matter what the political tide may be.

Far more likely is a nutting out of grey area, where nobody including the EU asks too many questions!