So it’s official. Turkeys do vote for an early Christmas. Without even waiting to see what David Cameron brought back from Brussels, the DUP and TUV nailed their colours to the Brexit mast. Both explain their position primarily in monetary terms – the UK pays far more into the EU than it gets back, so we’d be better off out of it. The tax payers of England of course could say that about the UK in general and Northern Ireland in particular. It’s as well they aren’t as mean-spirited towards us as the DUP is towards Europe. In DUP/TUV world, the good people of Northern Ireland are worthy of subsidies from their wealthier neighbours but the people of eastern and southern Europe are not.
Another entirely predictable reaction is the stated intention by Nicola Sturgeon to hold another in/out referendum if Scotland is forced out of the EU against its will; the celebratory champagne of the pro-union brigade had barely gone flat after their win the last time before Westminster promptly backtracked on its promises of Devo Max. The Scots are not likely to forget that. Chances are, the SNP will organise its own independence referendum without the consent of Westminster and win. Welsh nationalism, traditionally weaker than the Scots variety, cannot fail to be boosted by either a Welsh vote that is different from England’s or a Scottish declaration of UDI. The result? Constitutional chaos. Is that what Northern Ireland unionists really want?
It is one thing to be part of a multi-national United Kingdom, but a UK without Scotland is merely a greater England with an Irish outpost. How credible would Northern Ireland’s long-term position be sandwiched between an independent Scotland to the east, an independent Ireland to the south and with almost half the population wanting out? Is that a recipe for stability and prosperity?
Much about unionism is about staving off the evil day of Irish unity for as long as possible and even if death is inevitable, most people still want to live for as long as possible. Ironically, the DUP/TUV desire to leave the EU might well hasten the constitutional outcome they fear the most. It really is a case turkeys voting for an early Christmas.
The EU issue, does of course, transcend party lines. The convergence of Nigel Farage and George Galloway is the unlikeliest political coupling since the Nazi-Soviet pact. Galloway has been very supportive of Jeremey Corbyn, more so than most of his own party, but splits from him over Europe to make common cause with the likes of Ian Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Speaking of Britain’s answer to Ronald Reagan, Boris, forever playing the amiable fool, waited until the last minute to come off the fence to thrust the dagger into Cameron’s back. As a classical scholar, he would know the significance of, ‘Et tu Boris’. Make no mistake about it, this referendum has more to do with the future of the Tory party than it has about the destiny of the United Kingdom. The seventy or so Eurosceptic Tory MPs that have been sniping from the back benches are not going to be convinced by Cameron’s deal and never would be regardless of what was in it. Cameron feels it is time to lance the boil that has been festering in conservative politics for decades but the operation will be messy and painful and there is a chance the patient might die of infection.
You really couldn’t make it up. The future of these islands, is to being gambled on the rival ambitions of two posh boys who became enemies over the wiff waff table at the Bullington club. But what about the billions that will be saved by Brexit? Do you really think a Tory government will keep to EU spending commitments? Will George Osborne, another Bullington boy by the way, spend the money on supporting Northern Ireland farmers and businesses or will he favour tax cuts to get Boris elected as Prime Minister once he ousts Cameron in a palace coup? I’ll let you decide, but be careful what you wish for.
Sam Thompson is an occasional blogger, writer and historian, his latest book is ‘The Lesser Evil: A Political & Military History of World War II 1937-45‘.
You can find him on Twitter at: @JarrieSam