The English Bexiteer bigots when lying and cajoling their compatriots in order to convince them to vote ‘leave’, forgot altogether that their country, the UK contains other nations too, who do not share their unfounded megalomaniac imperial cathexis. The Scotch and the Irish voted ‘remain’ in the 23 June 2016 referendum and it seems now they are determined to make it real, even if it means to divorce their English partners after 300 years of marriage.
London is terrified with what is happening in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Yesterday’s deposition by the British ambassador to Brussels of the official letter of divorce with the EU is thought to also trigger parallel internal negotiations in the UK between London, Edinburgh and Belfast. Let’s start from the north.
PM Theresa May has vetoed the second Scottish referendum to quit the UK and counts on the Protestant community of Northern Ireland to keep the UK in one piece. However, if she chooses to go for a hard or no-deal Brexit, Scotland and more so Northern Ireland would become restless, and London will find it very difficult to suppress the centrifuge pressures. There is plenty of time for those separatist tendencies to mature and become dominant. There is a growing belief both in Britain and in mainland Europe, that, the two years provided by the article 50 of the EU Treaty for the Brexit negotiations will not be enough. Extensions will be needed.
In any case, after the first year of talks, it will become clear if London is willing to take care of the special needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland after the Brexit. For one thing, both those constituent parts of the UK have imperatively raised the issue of maintaining free access to the EU single market. On top of that, for Northern Ireland it is unthinkable to accept the reinstitution of border controls or custom checks, and God forbid the imposition of tariffs on transactions with the Republic of Ireland.
Today, Northern Ireland and the Eire economically, socially and in some respects even politically, are functioning as one country. The Irish of the North, at least their mostly Catholic majority, will never forsake this right, within or without the UK. Unfortunately, London is to learn that the hard way, but the dearest price from the misunderstandings will be again paid by Northern Ireland.
The question remains then, if Whitehall and Downing St. will be ready to satisfy the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland. It’s more likely though that the May government will not do that and instead resort to political containment. The governing English populist Brexiteers have shown until now a strong inclination to play the game of the egotistic if not racist public opinion of the English countryside. They have even challenged the banking oligarchy of the City, despite knowing that without this square mile of London soil, Britain is nothing more than a tourism country. Why then does May not hesitate mistreating Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Last Monday, May went to Scotland to meet the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for one hour. The meeting was a disaster. According to a BBC report, Sturgeon said she was “frustrated by a process that appears not to be listening”. The next day Tuesday, the Scottish Parliament officially passed with a 69 to 59 majority the First Minister’s proposal for a second referendum for independence, to be held before the Brexit. The idea is that if London doesn’t take care of Scotland’s aspiration to continue participating in the single EU market, the ‘country’ will seek independence from the UK. It must be noted that from a historic – in the literal meaning of the word – point of view for the Scots, Brexit may have offered a good…pretext to leave the UK.
May has clarified in the most drastic manner that her government will block a referendum before the Brexit. Legally, Scotland has to ask for London’s approval to hold a plebiscite. Still, Sturgeon replied that “her mandate for another vote was now beyond question”, and stressed that it would be “democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable to attempt to stand in the way”. In other words, Scotland may go as far as to hold the referendum, even if it has to challenge London’s authority. Given that the use of force by the UK government against Scotland is out of question, the Scots may take this step and ‘de facto’ repudiate London’s sovereignty.
In Northern Ireland things are even more difficult for London. Sinn Fein, the Irish left-wing and nationalist party, traditionally advocating for union with Eire, quit the government two months ago. Yesterday, May, speaking in the Commons, coercively asked the party to return to government, ahead of the Brexit negotiations. What is more important, in the 2 March election the pro-Britain Protestant party lost the majority for the first time since 1921, when the Irish island was partitioned.
N.Ireland in limbo
To be noted, that Sinn Fein is also very active in Eire and his leader, Gerry Adams, plays an important role in the political life of the Irish Republic too. He has not mentioned anything about holding a referendum for independence from the UK, but his political platform core contains an irredentist vision of a unified Irish island.
The deep division between the pro-Britain Protestants of Northern Ireland (Democratic Unionist Party) and the Sinn Fein has claimed thousands of lives in the not so distant past(Ulster loyalists ‘v’ Irish republicans). The civil war lasted for decades and ended only ten years ago, when the two sides couldn’t stand any more the bloodshed and compromised, by forming a joint government. The new arrangement proved successful in maintaining peace for the last ten years. Not any more, Sinn Fein doesn’t return to government..
The key factor for the success story in this peaceful period on the Irish island is the ‘de facto’ disappearance of borders between Northern Ireland and Eire. This was feasible because both the UK and the Irish Republic are members of the EU. However, things can very quickly turn sour on the island with the Brexit, if London doesn’t do whatever it takes to secure free communication between Northern Ireland and Eire.
The two ‘countries’ share the only land border between the UK and the EU, but today nobody pays attention to it. They go up and down as if it were one country. Unfortunately, in case of a hard or no-deal Brexit free communication will be legally impossible. This dreadful prospect is unacceptable for the Irish on both sides of the border. Then, either the UK and the EU will accept a completely irregular situation with exchanges between the two sides continue as today(a highly impossible prospect), or Northern Ireland in one way or another will depart from the UK and join Eire, thus remain in the EU. It is true that the North doesn’t have a burning willingness to remain in the EU. However, the union with the Eire is rooted deep in all Irish souls and, if it takes to leave the UK and stay in the EU to secure that, so be it.
In conclusion, it will be very difficult or impossible for the UK to leave the EU in one piece, if the hard kind of Brexit May’s government has in mind, is to be actually pursued. Scotland and Ireland will take sweet revenge against London.