Brexit and the British Empire

A spectre is haunting Europe. No, not that one. An uglier, messier one by far; the spectre of Empire. And if Europe is the haunted house in this metaphor, the UK is the creaking stairway where the spectre appears, Northern Ireland where you fancy you can hear it whisper in your ear.

Brexit has shone a light on a lot of long hidden corners of the British psyche, none so alarming as the anti-Irish sentiment that has appeared since Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed a concern that perhaps Brexiteers hadn’t thought the border issue all the way through (1). British broadsheet commentators say similar things about the government’s comically uncoordinated exit strategy all the time. But this was somehow different. While red-tops called for him to shut his mouth (2), serious political journalists dismissed him as an inexperienced pawn of Europe being played like a cheap fiddle, Unionists suggested he was being played by Sinn Féin, and almost nobody took him at his word. Apparently, the whole problem was invented, even though the Irish government had been pushing for this issue to be addressed from the moment of the referendum result. The general public was even worse; there were quips about potatoes and famine, casual suggestions that Ireland leave the EU too in order to solve the problem, claims that Ireland should just deal with the outcome because “they lost” (3), and some enlightened souls bragging that the UK should just invade Ireland.

Now, there is a whole lot to criticise about Varadkar’s party, Fine Gael, and their record in government. But is it really so hard to understand that, and why, an Irish government may be genuinely concerned about the return of a border with Northern Ireland? Must the aim be malevolent? Is it so long since peace and a fluid border normalised relations on our island that everyone has forgotten how hard fought and fragile that peace was?

Apparently the issue is not time, though, it is knowledge. Specifically, a lack of it. Somehow, Iain Duncan Smith – a man who could have been Prime Minister – opined twice that a presidential election, almost a year away and anyway having almost nothing to do with party politics in Ireland, has a bearing on the actions of Varadkar’s government, a claim that went unchallenged (4). He also claimed that Fine Gael were worried about losing seats to Sinn Féin, another tone deaf comment, and this nonsense was repeated unchallenged by Jacob Rees Mogg to the notoriously tough interviewer Andrew Marr. This was reinterpreted in the tabloid press as a preposterous claim that the Irish government is somehow controlled by the IRA and secretly inventing a faux concern to steal back the North (5). Broadsheet political correspondents claimed with a straight face that the Common Travel Area arrangement predated the EU, and there had never been a border, so the EU was not necessary to maintain a soft border – an argument simultaneously ignorant of EU and WTO rules and also rewriting the existence of the border during the Troubles. An unelected Lord, paid with public money, suggested that since Ireland created the border by leaving the UK, they should deal with the fallout (6).

Why this ignorance? Why the cluelessness about history, the absolute certainty with which Irish concerns are dismissed, the brash bravado with which much of Britain is responding to this mess? (7) There’s an old saying that those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The rhetoric of Brexit, the vague exhortations to “take back control” and similar sentiments seems to contain within them a hope for Empire 2.0. Opponents or those who simply raise practical concerns are often told off for “talking Britain down”, reminded that Britain once ruled much of the world and can certainly make a success of their new freedom to negotiate trade deals with anyone in the world. This is the Britain of the British East India Company, after all! Who needs experts?

Missing from that interpretation, of course, are two very important details. To start with, the world is a very different place now. Britain aren’t the power they once were, and they cannot be again. But more importantly, there is a lack of information and understanding about the history of the British Empire, of colonialism generally. British students can drop all study of history quite early, and those who take history to A level can get all the way there with little or no mention of the ugly side of their country’s history. No Bengal Famine, no Boer concentration camps, no Amritsar Massacre, nothing about the Empire’s role in the slave trade or the atrocities carried out during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. And those were all quite far from home; there is arguably an even greater mental block about the British Empire in Ireland, about partition, about plantations, about collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, about the torture of political prisoners, about An Gorta Mór. No wonder Boris Johnson’s endless stream of gaffes seem like amusing faux pas and not grossly offensive colonial arrogance (8). No wonder 44% of British people are proud of the history of empire (9). No wonder empire seems like an aspiration, when all you hear are the positives.

No-one needs to don a hairshirt and whip out the cat-o-ninetails. The past cannot be undone. But self-awareness is vital in order to leave that past where it belongs and to handle Brexit in a responsible way. Ireland – and Northern Ireland – may feel distant and alien to many in Britain, but the reality is that the border issue cannot be ignored until it disappears, and Irish concerns must be treated with respect. Lives depend upon it.

  1. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/varadkar-on-brexit-sometimes-it-seems-like-they-haven-t-thought-all-this-through-1.3295647
  2. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4940971/irelands-naive-young-prime-minister-should-shut-his-gob-on-brexit-and-grow-up/
  3. https://www.irishnews.com/news/brexit/2017/11/29/news/watch-this-channel-4-video-of-british-people-struggling-to-draw-the-northern-ireland-border-1199556/
  4. https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/politics/iain-duncan-smith-blames-imaginary-election-irish-brexit-difficulties/
  5. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4889870/iras-political-wing-sinn-fein-to-blame-for-new-brexit-stand-off-over-northern-ireland-border-ministers-say/
  6. https://twitter.com/KilclooneyJohn/status/932677674509787136
  7. http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/12/03/a-wake-up-call/
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/sep/30/boris-johnson-caught-on-camera-reciting-kipling-in-myanmar-temple
  9. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-people-are-proud-of-colonialism-and-the-british-empire-poll-finds-a6821206.html

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Lives depend upon it”
    I think we should avoid threats of violence being brought into the mix, without very heavy explanation that there is never, never any excuse at all for it … These things have a habit of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

  • Elaine

    There is no threat of violence in what I wrote, and it’s frankly bizarre to read it that way.

  • Damien Mullan

    “Senior PSNI officers have warned British MPs that a hard post-Brexit border would be an obvious area of attack for dissident republican terrorists.

    Giving evidence to the House of Commons Brexit Committee in Co Armagh, the PSNI’s Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said any infrastructures along the border would give terror groups “a further rallying call to drive their recruitment.”

    “They have a focus on this. They see it as an opportunity.

    “Infrastructure on the border would be an obvious point for dissident groups to rally around and attack,” Mr Harris added.

    He said the threat from dissident republicans remains severe and that there were four attempts on the lives of police officers over the past year. There were also 58 shooting and over 32 bombing incidents.

    Mr Harris told the committee it was regrettable that a lot of the current border conversations “take us back to the 80s.”

    “We in law enforcement see no rational of that infrastructure at the minute,” he insisted.

    Mr Harris said that during the 1980s there was a major problem with cross-border burglaries of older people in their homes.

    He said many of the culprits escaped justice by heading over the border.

    The Deputy Chief Constable outlined a number of shared European initiatives, such as the European Arrest Warrant, shared information systems and joint investigation teams, which have helped in the fight against crimes including human trafficking and drug smuggling.

    Mr Harris told the committee he would be concerned if the shared systems were lost.

    “The systems are for a safer Europe. It is not a one-way street. We have a lot to offer our European partners after Brexit.

    “We are unsure of what the landscape is going to look like going forward. Our responsibility is to do our very best to maintain the safety of everyone on this island.

    “That has to be backed up with legislation and policy which allows intelligence and evidence to be shared quickly.”

    When asked what would happen in the event of a no Brexit deal, Mr Harris said the PSNI would have to fall back on existing legal provisions with the Garda in the Republic.

    However, he said a new extradition treaty would be needed in the absence of the European Arrest Warrant.

    Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, head of the PSNI’s serious and organised crime branch, told committee members there is good cross-border cooperation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána.

    He said the two organisations assist each other “across a whole spectrum of crime.”

    Mr Martin said the PSNI has been sharing intelligence with the gardaí in relation to the ongoing drugs feud in Dublin between the rival Hutch and Kinahan gangs that had resulted in a number of murders.”

    https://www.rte.ie/news/brexit/2017/1207/925737-psni-border/

    These things must be discussed, after all, what were the French doing building the Maginot Line, if not accounting for possible conflict.

  • Damien Mullan

    Ultimately is boils down to the British viewing the continent as a threat, while Irish people have always seen Europe as a refuge.

    How much of Irish Gaelic history and culture was created and afforded protection under the auspices of Continental allies. The Irish Colleges dotted across Europe are surely the most powerful reflection of this. Plus, the internationalism of Catholicism itself, it’s early pan-European, then global penetration, gave many Irish a cultural identity that encompassed that beyond these Isles. Not that our greatest cultural icons are almost invariably from Church of Ireland backgrounds, Yeats, Shaw, Swift, Beckett, to name but a few. Perhaps for them the interplay between the Anglo and the Irish opened them to broader multiple expressions of identity.

    It really boils down to an issue of identity.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not saying we should ignore the dissident threat or that they won’t latch onto this as an excuse for violence. I’m saying make it clear violence should not happen and does not need to happen as a result of any of this. If we say, ‘If you do X, violence will result, so do Y’, we are allowing the violence to influence decision-making. That is the opposite of democracy. We have to be very careful what we say about violence when conducting democratic decision making.

    There can be NO hint that it would be in the least bit understandable. ‘Understandable’ to the terrorist is only a degree away from outright justification. It is dangerous talk. We do have to raise these issues sometimes but we need to be extremely careful how we frame our words. I think this example was way too loose and I think really irresponsible.

  • Korhomme

    There’s also a report in the Guardian; the parliamentary Brexit committee were visiting the border today. Jacob R-M and our very own wee Sammy “declined to take part in the trip”.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/07/northern-irish-border-terror-target-police-chief-warns-brexit

  • MainlandUlsterman

    what did you mean by “lives depend on it”?

  • Damien Mullan

    That’s an attempt to stifle debate, all because you subjectively view the above piece as somehow an incitement or succour for the promotion of violence, which is absurd from any objective view.

    You couldn’t buy a Tom Clancy novel if that was the case, or any book either fiction or non-fiction that details violence.

    It is one’s own moral conscience that is the ultimate regulator of one’s actions.

  • Korhomme

    The levels of (wilful?) ignorance, arrogance, dissimulation, exceptionalism and a generally patronising attitude towards both the Republic and NI shown by politicians in GB is quite astonishing; I’d suggest though, rather than being ‘British’, they are ‘English’. It was England-beyond-London that tipped the referendum vote to Leave.

    Just what is so wonderful about these people that unionists will cleave to them, and remain ‘united’ with them at (almost) all costs?

  • Damien Mullan

    Maybe you should post your inquiry to PSNI’s Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Seems in parallel with the British Empire dreamers there exists that strain of Irish nationalism perpetually poised to take offence, primed to mine every comment for perceived anti-Irish bias and keen to partake in a partisan history buffet in order to feed their contemporary prejudices.

  • Elaine

    When you read that May, Macron, the Pope and just about every world leader has condemned Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel on the grounds that to say so is destabilising and dangerous, do you think they are threatening violence or condoning it somehow?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    explained my concerns and I think given NI’s recent past, these are not unreasonable. Maniacs in NI should not be given any chink of light for their violence. None AT ALL.

  • IRF

    “If we say, ‘If you do X, violence will result, so do Y’, we are allowing the violence to influence decision-making. That is the opposite of democracy.” A bit like the British government in 1912 saying: “If we grant Home Rule, a loyalist minority in Ireland will start gun-running and threatening a campaign of violence, so let’s partition Ireland.” That was the opposite of democracy, surely?

  • runnymede

    yes quite

  • MainlandUlsterman

    maybe

  • Korhomme

    At one time English kings ruled much of what is today France; ‘bloody’ Mary Tudor had only the remnant at Calais. The Scots were friendly with the French, as were many Irish. King Billy took the English crown as much for the military might that England could give him in the Nine Year’s War against the Sun King. (Just recently, an English historian denied that Billy ‘invaded’ England; he was ‘invited’ by the Whigs; that doesn’t quite explain why Billy brought an army, and fought battles in Ireland. By contrast, the Merry Monarch when he was restored didn’t have an army.)

    France is the ‘old enemy’ for the English, but an “old ally” for the Scots and the Irish.

  • Barneyt

    Whao. You have captured every thought I have had on this matter and you are the only blogger on here who at least seems to see the elephant in the room…..irelands partition and its need to disappear to warrant it being ignorable.

    Many argue you should leave history alone but our history encroaches on the present all to often and has to be examined

  • Salmondnet

    People do write some tosh on this site at times, but this is exceptional. Interpreting British actions through the distorting lens of Ireland’s past in this way is really the most contrived nonsense. If there is imperialism affecting Brexit it is coming entirely from the EU – an empire to which the Republic is loyal, but from which the UK wishes to escape. A lot of Irish commentators clearly relish the fact that Britain looks to be on the receiving end this time. An understandable reaction, perhaps, but it is utterly hypocritical to construct this kind of elaborate justification to hide what is obvious malice.

  • LiamÓhÉ

    Was this their first and only visit to Northern Ireland on the border issue, well past the 11th hour and possibly the ’13th’? Who else has visited in an official capacity from the ‘mainland’ that is not France?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes, I wouldn’t defend that at all

  • Nevin

    “A spectre is haunting Europe. No, not that one. An uglier, messier one by far; the spectre of Empire.”

    Curiously enough that ‘Empire’ might be the ‘United States of Europe’ with Ireland, the useful stool-pigeon, acting as cover for the EU Commission’s dirty work.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think they need to be very careful what they say. ‘Destabilising’ is OK; ‘dangerous’ borders on not OK, but is probably just about the right side of the line. ‘Lives depend on it’ is the wrong side I think, it’s too openly contemplating violence and linking it to political decisions you disapprove of.

    I’m not new to this, we had this debate on Slugger a year or two ago over how to talk about the prospect of Loyalist violence in the event of a united Ireland. And the same rules apply. It has to be OK to make reference to the chance of violence, but in doing so you have to extinguish any possibility of those committing violence being able to blame it on things not going their way politically. So while talking about a united Ireland bringing a risk of violence, I would also say that I would back the new state’s police force to deal with loyalist terrorists carrying any out; and I would give the loyalist terrorists zero time of day to justify their actions. This is even though I would myself be hugely at odds with the new state, indeed its presence would represent a nightmare to me. I would also unequivocally condemn anyone even hinting at understanding the feelings of loyalist terrorists in carrying out violence. It’s wrong, end of. And that’s what I expect nationalists to do over Republican violence. So, fine to say there are nutters out there that might use this as an excuse for violence but you need to accompany with, ‘and no one should be influenced by that and I will back the authorities in coming down on them like a ton of bricks.’

  • Damien Mullan

    Well I’m sorry to say but censorship comes up against the freedom of speech there.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    well said

  • Nevin

    “It was England-beyond-London that tipped the referendum vote to Leave.”

    Funnily enough, no mention of Obama’s back of the queue intervention or the stupid comments made by EU folk during the course of the referendum campaign. The failure of the EU to reflect and reform and Angela Merkel’s open-door approach to immigration also did David Cameron, Theresa May as well as Angela Merkel herself no favours.

    When it comes to London and Dublin ‘elites’ – and one-hand clappers anywhere, they all can do a dab hand at ‘ignorance, arrogance, dissimulation, exceptionalism and a generally patronising attitude’.

  • Devil Éire

    Physician, heal thyself.

  • BP39

    Welcome to the Scottish ‘experience’.

  • Reader

    But this was somehow different. While red-tops called for him to shut
    his mouth (2), serious political journalists dismissed him as an
    inexperienced pawn of Europe being played like a cheap fiddle, Unionists
    suggested he was being played by Sinn Féin, and almost nobody took him
    at his word.

    Shocking, because we all know that the Irish newspapers are unfailingly polite about senior British politicians: their integrity, their ability and their hair.

  • harmlessdrudge

    Since when is a statement of the blindingly obvious a threat? Oh yes, when talking to a unionist.

    There certainly are circumstances in which violence is WHOLLY justified and to suggest otherwise is balderdash. Suggesting violence is NEVER justified doesn’t prevent it happening, nor does it mitigate the costs of it. Surely we’ve all had enough unionist hypocrisy on this issue? Violence has always been perfectly ok with most unionists when the state was either perpetrating it or colluding in its perpetration.

    I think we should avoid pretending that one side in NI was virtuous and one evil.

  • Reader

    Korhomme: he was ‘invited’ by the Whigs; that doesn’t quite explain why Billy brought an army, and fought battles in Ireland.
    He brought an army because James had one. Inexplicable as it may seem to republicans, some people still retained loyalty to a king who had been rejected by Parliament.

  • ‘island man

    Brits and the truth. Give them Goggle box and all the other brain dead nonsense that they adore, treat them like mushrooms – feed ’em 5h1t and keep them in the dark, and Britain’s dark history didn’t really happen. I always get cross when a Brit says with a cocky sneer, ‘Oh, those American’s are so stupid, they don’t know anything about their history.’ Oh aye, who was the monarch in 1589, what year was the Magna Carta signed, what is the Magna Carta, what year was the Act of Union with Ireland, why did that Act of Union happen?

    Nothing, they know nothing – but ask them why they want to leave the EU, ‘Oh, cos we’re the greatest nation on the planet mate, ooh are ya, ooh are ya, rule Britannia!’

    95% of Brits are as dumb as a bucket of spanners.

  • harmlessdrudge

    Utter drivel. You seem incapable of recognising that brexit without regulatory alignment constitutes a threat to Ireland which is an independent sovereign country, not some rebellious part of the UK. As for the EU being an “empire”… more drivel, as you’d know if you’d ever been on the receiving end of colonisation and were forced to speak, say, German.

    The article was perfectly fair comment on rampant jingoism in the British media, so riddled with British, and in particular English, notions of superiority and condescension as to be beyond mockery.

  • Sharpie

    Is it not obvious that those things weren’t mentioned because the article wasn’t about them – but hey I suppose most Brexiters are feeling a bit sensitive at the moment. It would also be hard to equate Obama’s astute observation about the priority of England’s demands to eat at the big table with massacres and atrocities in the name of Empire. The stupidest comments in the referendum were clearly made by Brexiters including – spend £350 a week on the NHS instead of EU – or Nelson McCauslands gem about not caring what it cost – any cost is worth leaving.

    As for elites everywhere – yes they are all capable of those adjectives but then aren’t we all at times. You will have a hard job though persuading anyone that the Dublin commentators and politicians are more patronising or arrogant that what is emanating from London – media and right wingers,

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The most interesting thing is how many of those who had “ invited” William to usurp the throne were writing to James in 1690 to invite him to return. The insecurity lasted for decades, as Monad’s “Jacobitism and the English People” clearly shows. While we have been given the Whig version of events for centuries now, recent historical research is seriously undermining its facade.

    One simple aspect of this is what happened with the Army which William came to hopefully use in his own wars. One third accompanied James to Ireland, one third simply deserted and provided the backbone of attempts to raise Jacobite regiments in the north that spring, and of the third who remained with the colours, John Churchill had to vet it for unreliables, loosing about half. Parliament might have invited William in but he had to keep his regiments on hand when they balked at voting him the crown which he’d claimed he had no interest in usurping.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But you are still prepared to defend “a la outrance” what that violence achieved in the form of partition? Correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Neiltoo

    Many argue you should leave history alone but our history encroaches on the present all to often and has to be examined

    Now there’s a circular argument if ever I heard one.

  • Nevin

    Not very sharp, Sharpie, I’m not a Brexiter. There’s been very little mention of the elephant in the room on SOT: the EU and its appendages. The thread opener bears very little relevance to the UK-EU27 encounter; it reads more like an exercise in Irish nationalist mopery.

  • Sharpie

    There is plenty of work to be done in improving the EU but trying to fix that while organising the fourth largest member leaving is a bit of an ask. No one in the entire debate said EU was perfect, however its advantages and huge benefits have been more ignored than its shortcomings. This was the fault of both campaigns. The debate now is about Brexit and only that and how it has changed everything for ever. To be fair no one knows where it will end up but it will be a long way from status quo and we know that in Northern Ireland that challenges one community more than the other.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    When something’s examined (critically and objectively) then any assumptions and received wisdoms are questioned.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’ve often thought that Wilde’s critiques of the English, particularly the upper classes, was due to his outsider Irish status: accepted but not quite part of it. His downfall was brought about more easily as a result. Unlike another Anglo Irishman, Lawrence of Arabia, his lack of clubability didn’t work to his advantage.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Except that it’s already all too boringly and predictably familiar to the Irish. John Bull’s Other Island and all that. Look at Punch cartoons of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And what feeds your mania?
    Chinks of light?

  • Marcus Orr

    A spectre is haunting Europe. All those xenophobic Brits want their Empire back. That is why they just voted to leave the EU Empire. Trying to take control over everyone once again.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I have to agree (not with the 95% figure but not much lower than that). I’ve never come across so much lazy, automatic, unverified, conclusion jumping, casually xenophobic, innately superior (dressed up as patronising affection or touristic interest) thinking as I did in England. albeit with exceptions. The fact that people state some things unchecked astonished me.
    The education system (unleash your creativity, children – but don’t confuse yourselves with facts!) and the knee jerk jingoism and obvious biases of the tabloid press have to contribute to that.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Don’t forget to say ‘and no one should be influenced by that and I will back the authorities in coming down on them like a ton of bricks.’ when you forward your anxieties.
    Let me know when you’re heading down to the cop shop. I want to witness that moment and the look on the Desk Sergeant’s face.

  • ‘island man

    The ‘unleash your creativity, children – but don’t confuse yourselves with facts’ is a very good example of the problem, and the pseudo-psychology I sometimes listen too. I don’t want to be too harsh, I’ve met some very thoughtful people from England, but when you meet one of those over opinionated ones, wow, staggering ignorance. A few months ago I was talking to an English girl about South Africa, and how there is a coloured community and a black community, terms used to describe people of differing ethnicities. I was called out as a racist for using the term ‘coloured’ as we’re all colours, and then I was condescendingly informed that those poor people were colonised by the Dutch, and I should be more sensitive. Obviously the 2nd Boer War isn’t taught in detail in British schools.

  • Georgie Best

    The notion that an Irish leader is only concerned about the border because the EU put him up to it is so bizarre as to be deliberately misleading. This goes beyond politeness, it is more Brexiteer lies,

  • Georgie Best

    It isn’t only the ignorance, but the pride in ignorance.

  • Georgie Best

    So MU you are approving of ” If there is imperialism affecting Brexit it is coming entirely from the EU”. This does reveal a lot.

  • Surveyor

    England and Wales wish to escape it. Even Arlene’s constituency wanted to remain.

  • Georgie Best

    Quite simply it is wrong to renege on a peace agreement and if you do then you have a responsibility if that facilitates violence.

  • Hawk

    Brilliant comment!

  • file

    What a class post! I take off my hat … in ref to No. 6, the actual, historical fact for Lord Kilcooney is that Northern Ireland choose to opt out of the Free State (which it was technically part of for about 3 days) to create the border.

  • file

    Hi Mainland (which is Europe)
    If, for Stephen Dedalus, (Irish) history was a nightmare from which he was trying to awake, it seems for you that the Irish future is a nightmare from which you are trying to awake. But the only way to deal with yoru nightmares is to face them. And togive you credit, you do try to do that sometimes. Certainly a reunited Ireland will have some birth pangs, but they need not assume nightmarish proportions.
    Don’t worry, we will help you get there: we will not leave you at the mercy of the mob.

  • Nevin

    There was some fierce caterwauling on RTE Radio last night about Ireland joining PESCO, not least a potential annual €3bn defence bill.

  • Reader

    Georgie Best: The notion that an Irish leader is only concerned about the border because the EU put him up to it is so bizarre as to be deliberately misleading.
    I would take his concern over the border for granted, absolutely. It’s the risky strategy he pursued that made him look like an EU pawn. Ireland’s interests always depended on stage 2 of the negotiations – you need the best possible FTA. Gambling on forcing the UK to remain in the Customs Union was risky.
    You know he has accepted a negotiating fudge, don’t you? Absolutely everything depends on the next stage of talks.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Start with a personal insult, that’s always a good debating ploy

    Tomorrow never comes, though 🙂

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Are you suggesting future Republican initiation of violence would be justified, in the absence of any violence from the UK or unionism?

    If so, under what circumstances should they start murdering people – and whom?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Does it? What does it reveal?

    I wouldn’t have used the word ‘imperialism’ myself at all, but I do think the EU 27 have acted like ar**es over Northern Ireland in the last week and there is something of imperialist hubris in their failure. Remote from the province, uncaring about actual feelings on the ground (at least initially) and happy to delegate to a regional ally with its own agenda. From an Ulster British point of view, I have felt the EU has shown a real callous disregard for the delicate ethnic balance in N Ireland – a bul in a china shop. I would also accuse the hard Brexiteers of doing the same thing.

    I’m strongly for UK membership of the EU and support its core ideas, but I’m not misty-eyed about it either – it can be a juggernaut and it can throw its weight around in a negative way, as the Republic has at times experienced (Nice Treaty, Lisbon Treaty). And I think the federalist / united states of Europe idea is a pretty bad one.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I sense some spite in your comment, Ben. Beneath you I think, I’m not such a terrible person.

  • Georgie Best

    I didn’t address the question of justification, any more than the PSNI statement did, my comments related to probability.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    and how would you respond to the Republican terrorists if that happened – I assume condemn them unreservedly, call for their immediate arrest and long jail terms and make it clear no one in politics should make one iota of adjustment because of it?

  • Georgie Best

    The EU and the Irish government simply wanted trade to flow on this island as people in both parts of the island wanted and respecting the GFA and that makes them ar**es in your view?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I quite like that as a piece of poetry – though it does sound a bit Charles Manson

  • Georgie Best

    I most certainly would make clear the the political consensus arrangements reneged on should be restored. As we saw for 30 years, securocrat policies without a political deal only make things worse.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, not that. What makes them ar**es was their insistence on Monday that regulatory convergence between ROI and NI had to happen, even if it meant regulatory divergence between NI and the rest of the UK (and therefore an internal UK sea customs border was treated as somehow less bad idea than the land customs border). The wording they were demanding the UK sign up to had the dynamic of pulling NI away from the UK and towards the ROI, without any say for NI itself in that and without respecting the economic and territorial integrity of the UK.

    They have now climbed down on that, and London has stepped forward with guarantees to NI, so we have a deal. They were both being ar**es. The DUP helped get us into the mess, but we can thank them also a little for getting us out of this chapter of it at any rate. A sea customs/trade border with mainland UK would have been disastrous for *everyone* in N Ireland.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we all agree partition now – that was in the GFA. Do you not?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    so in what circumstances would you justify a Republican terrorist attack, from here on (let’s leave the past aside for these purposes)?

  • Georgie Best

    If the UK wishes to introduce barriers to trade between GB and NI then that was a reflection on their policy, it has nothing to do with the EU.

    Quite simply, the GFA is not something that can be set aside to pander to infighting in the the Tory party.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    thus, ambivalence towards violence, the Northern Ireland Disease, continues …

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: But you are still prepared to defend “a la outrance” what that violence achieved in the form of partition?
    Anyone who isn’t in favour of an immediate world government is either defending borders achieved by some measure of violence or challenging them at the risk of more violence.
    The best you can ask for from people now is that they will justify stasis or change on the basis of current, peaceful, arguments.
    Is it right that Dál Riata is currently partitioned?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    So let me get this right, you will have had no problem with the IRA stance during the troubles then? That is if political violence is authorised by political necessity. For myself I find The challenge to normal constitutional methods in 1912 as offensive as I’ve found 30 years of recent political violence.

  • Reader

    file: Hi Mainland (which is Europe)
    The UK exists.
    The UK mainland exists; it’s the big island. On a good day I can see it across the North Channel.
    You will be denying the existence of the Irish mainland next.

  • Reader
  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Fiat justitia, pereat mundus”, MU. I support the Belfast Agreement because it has been the best hope for a reasonable transition to the reunification of Ireland, but I have never believed partition to be a legally or morally correct thing, coming as it did from the inceptive political violence which saw off Constitutionalism in Ireland. My grandfather had a catch phrase, “the truth remains the truth even when the whole world accepts a lie.” Partition was founded on fear and lies and as far as I’m concerned has always being a poison chalice for all of us.

    Also we disagree over the significance of the Agreement which I read in relativist and pragmatic terms, post modern, if you like. I do not feel bound to tell myself lies about either the legitimicy of partition or about the name of the island I’m living on!

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: So let me get this right, you will have had no problem with the IRA stance during the troubles then?
    I have no idea how you connect that with what I have written. Borders all over the world are the result of history, and usually war – for instance, the France/Germany border. You remember Alsace and Lorraine? People aren’t going to renounce their nationality or national identity over a bit of discomfort over past history.
    Correction – *most* people won’t.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “I have never believed partition to be a legally or morally correct thing” – so you agree with GFA, just not what it actually says?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I quite agree, though I don’t agree that the GFA was ever going to be “set aside”. Nationalists are upset about developments, yes, and that needs to be taken seriously and addressed. But the GFA as such is a red herring for this, the options being discussed were all consistent with its terms.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    so you would use the violence to press your political point? That is the problem. That is a breach of the Mitchell Principles by which we all do politics:
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dd098fe235e8686c155d8fe1630d61cb1eb29bfd5cb649832e3253286556b2a5.png

  • MainlandUlsterman

    because they used Northern Ireland as a hostage, with a gun to its head, to force the UK into a position on the single market and customs union. It happens to be the position I want the UK to take; but I still resent the callous way they put the NI economy and the place of NI in the UK at risk in order to make their point. There are other ways – and they should have been more respectful of the Good Friday Agreement (it’s actual terms, not the cherry-picked nationalist version of it they seem to believe exists – it doesn’t).

  • Cadogan West

    The main occupation in NI/UK will be washing cars from now on as MT intended all along. The apotheosis of a service economy.

    How I like Christmas and JSB, heaven.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It’s that old Irish joke “I wouldn’t be starting from here.” What the Belfast agreement entails is agreeing to start sorting things out from where we are. If both reunification and the union are entirely legitimate aspirations, then neither can make an absolute claim on its legitimacy. I am not in any sense signing up to the absolute legitimacy of something but only to the pragmatic reality I am currently facing. But then I am reading the Agreements text very much in terms of a rather post modernist interpretation which I believe is entirely supported by the thinking behind the Agreement.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’ve already explained that to you, Reader, if political violence is justified in bringing the northern partition state about, where is the cut-off point historically at which it ceases to be justified for others? If unionism was justified in 1912, if you are to be consistent the IRA were also justified in their regime change violence during the 70s 80s and 90s. I don’t believe they were myself, but then I don’t believe that the partition state was justified in its own violent inception. I note you are flying off into broad generalisations, rather than addressing the immediate moral conundrum which I’d challenged MU over.

  • Brian Kann

    Fantastic read Elaine. I would add that there is much that British/English people can be proud of, but as the Empire goes, an awful lot less, if any.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    ” British students can drop all study of history quite early, and those who take history to A level can get all the way there with little or no mention of the ugly side of their country’s history. No Bengal Famine, no Boer concentration camps, no Amritsar Massacre, nothing about the Empire’s role in the slave trade or the atrocities carried out during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. And those were all quite far from home; there is arguably an even greater mental block about the British Empire in Ireland, about partition, about plantations, about collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, about the torture of political prisoners, about An Gorta Mór.”

    I’d be equally surprised to find Irish nationalists who aren’t just as ignorant of aspects of the British empire and things like the famine, I’ve read my fair share of Tim Pat Coogan books and and ‘objective history’ it is not.

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: I’ve already explained that to you, Reader, if political violence is justified in bringing the northern partition state about, where is the cut-off point historically at which it ceases to be justified for others?
    I hadn’t *said* that any violence was justified, only that in effect: “We are where we are.” What you have described as my ‘broad generalisation’ is exactly the point I wanted to make – we are where we are; now what?
    I do not share your fantasies about turning back the clock – there will not be a Jacobite restoration and neither will there be an end to partition without a referendum.

    However
    If I was obliged to rank our local causes, I would say that it was morally far better to keep 1,000,000 unionists in the UK at the expense of 500,000 nationalists than to put those 500,000 nationalists into the Free State at the expense of 1,000,000 unionists.
    No-one was offering any other deal than those two options back then. Even 100 years later the author of the article above is making excuses for a Dáil decision not to make a marginal improvement on those numbers by implementing the boundary commission report.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You’re still not getting the point, are you? Of course our history will not change, but recognising the lies we have grown up with is the first thing that will permit us not to escape their power to harm. I have no fantasies about changing the past, only about honestly facing up to its meaning.

    Your “in or out” of the UK fantasy shows you for one do not understand what Home Rule, or resistance to Home Rule, was actually about. That is the problem. You frame the issue in modern terms and fail to realise that what was lost by Unionism’s option was a sane lawful Constitutional solution. We are living out today a vicious polarisation which was created then, and most importantly justifying it as you are doing. The Undoing culture of violence is the direct product of this pretence that Unionism was justified in opposing normal process of parliament and law, and that justification is still with us in the behaviour of the DUP in their “Union even if it destroys the UK” approach. Home Rule in 1912 was a very weak and mild version of devolution, which did not even begin to challenge UK sovereignty in Ireland. We had another deal on offer, not to resort to violence and to accept the inevitability of Home Rule if one were to respect parliament and rule of law, as Saunderson had realised along with the other sane Irish Unionists in the 1890s. And in the event, Unionism did not even “stay in the UK” on its terms but was made to accept devolution in 1920 anyway, but a limited local devolution which morally corrupted our political culture with its inception in a cult of violence, which you are still justifying I see with your best scenario interpretation of partition,

    You are still thinking about the past as something over, which does not touch our everyday life, but as William Faulkner says, “the past is not dead, it’s not even past.” We are made from the soil what we are we have grown out of. Our politics needs to recognise this and re-plant itself in cleaner earth.

  • Food First

    It’s the E U that’s the Collonial Power & the U K that’s the Colony & we want our Independence back
    It’s little wonder Blair scrapped the crime of treason as all surviving Prime Ministers who granted the E U further powers might have had to face the ultimate penalty

  • Sub

    Absolutely laughable coming form someone who describes loyalists as counter terrorists

  • file

    A mainland is the landmass of which the smaller island is a part. Not all of the smaller island in this case is part of the landmass to its East. All of Ireland is, however part of the landmass of Europe.

  • file

    And how do you pronounce my moniker? Anyway, don’t be so sensitive; your actual moniker is, as you know, a calculated insult, as is the use of the term mainland to refer to the island of Great Britain.