by Frank Schnittger
Tue Aug 13th, 2019 at 09:37:31 AM EST
Botched departure from EU should not lead to botched exit from UK
Knowing how to make a grand entrance is all very well but, as the Brexit saga reminds us, the ability to make a dignified exit is even more important. There is a lovely French phrase, l'esprit de l'escalier, that signifies the moment at the bottom of the staircase when you think of what you should have said as you were leaving. The Brexiteers have not yet decided what it is they should have said before the decision to depart was made in June 2016. The words of Capt Lawrence Oates, as he left the tent to walk into the blizzard near the bitter end of Robert Falcon Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole, seem to be as much as they can manage: we are going out now and we may be some time.
But there is more than one exit taking place now, more than one union that is about to be left behind. One certainty in these days of confusion is that whatever Boris Johnson is camping up most ludicrously is the thing that is in deepest trouble. When Johnson, like some tinpot dictator awarding himself decorations and accolades, granted himself the hitherto unheard-of title of minister for the union, there could be no more convincing proof that the union is in deep doo-doo. If you have to have a minister for potatoes, it can only be because there is potato blight. If the state you're in needs a minister to affirm its very existence, you in a pretty bad state.
Of course Boris was only trying to curry favour with the DUP, who are in a permanent state of hyper-anxiety about anything anybody might do or say which might effect their precious Union. However Fintan O'Toole is in vintage form here and his column is worth reading in full. He doesn't say anything that readers of the European Tribune will not have read here many times before, but this is the first time it has been articulated so clearly to a national audience.
What we may be about to experience is not so much Northern Ireland leaving the UK as Northern Ireland (and Scotland) being abandoned by England. The grand narrative of Irish nationalism has always been that perfidious Albion was desperate to hold on to the great prize of the Six Counties and had to be forced or cajoled into giving it up. This was never true but it is now starkly and demonstrably false.
Every single survey of both Leave voters and Tory party members over the last three years has shown that they are not unionists. They want Brexit, and if the price of Brexit is the end of the union, so be it. The biggest study, done by Survation for Channel 4 last November, asked voters what their feelings would be: "If Brexit leads to Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom and joining the Republic of Ireland". Sixty-one per cent of Leave voters said they would be "not very concerned" or "not at all concerned". Fifty-four per cent of people who said they voted for the so-called Conservative and Unionist Party in 2017 said the same thing. The results when asked how they would feel if Brexit led to Scottish independence were on very similar lines: let them go.
It has long been my view that a United Ireland will happen not when a majority in N. Ireland actively want it, but when England decides it is a luxury they can no longer afford. The £10 Billion p.a. subsidy the British Exchequer provides to the North is of the same order of magnitude as the UK net contribution to the EU, for which it has received a far greater net benefit. If Scotland were also to secede from the Union post Brexit, all logic for the maintenance of the "Union of Great Britain and N. Ireland" goes out the window. Great Britain becomes England (and at most, Wales), and Northern Ireland's greater ancestral ties are with Scotland. Fintan concludes:
In one of those little jokes that history likes, we will be facing all of this while marking the centenary of a very bad Irexit from the UK, one that gave us partition, a civil war, a sectarian Protestant state in the North and an economically miserable and socially oppressive Catholic state in the South. If the next Irish exit from Ukania is to be better than the last one, we cannot wait to talk about it until we are the bottom of the stairs.
This is a plea I have also often made, and long before the disastrously vague Brexit referendum was ever called: A "border poll" on Irish Unity should never be held in a vacuum and before what constitutes a "United Ireland" has been precisely spelled out. If Brexit has reinforced anything it is that referenda on complex issues open to multiple interpretations can lead to very confused outcomes.
Ireland has a written constitution and all changes have to be precisely spelled out. Proposals for constitutional change have to be clearly explained by a non-partisan electoral commission and are often accompanied by legislative proposals spelling out how the government proposes to implement any new provision.
Precisely what should be contained in any proposal for a United Ireland is a subject for another diary. Suffice to say here that it needs to be detailed, comprehensive, and spell out the implications for all sectors of Irish society, north and south. Simply ejecting N. Ireland out of one union and into another is a recipe for disaster. It would be a blight on all our people. We do not need a minister for potatoes in Ireland.