Return to Recent Articles menu

Brexit update 2 - Brexit in Ireland

As the British Civil War heats up, a tepid stirring can be detected in Dublin

10 September 2019

Up until now the government has been talking tough about Irish interests. In practice this has meant lining up foursquare with the European  powers and supporting the proposed deal negotiated by Theresa May, especially the "backstop" clause meant to prevent a customs border dividing North and South as long as Britain remained unable to produce a workable alternative within the Good Friday Agreement.

Ireland holds a special position in that the political partition of the country can be largely ignored as long as there is economic convergence in Europe. The backstop arrangement would have avoided that.

However the fall of May, the elevation of Boris Johnson and his attempted coup indicates that British government policy is for a hard Brexit. There is an absolute rejection of the backstop and no genuine proposals for an alternative alliance with Europe. All of the government's manoeuvring is focused on crushing the opposition and a hard Brexit.

The tone of the Dublin government has changed sharply. A hard Brexit means that Ireland will become the front line in defending the European customs union. They need to prepare for an economic downturn they said would never happen, implement a hard border while  simultaneously denying that this hard border exists and dispersing border checks across the country. They will have to stop talking about the guarantees of the "internationally recognised" Good Friday Agreement. The British have shown their disinterest in the GFA for some time and the recent visit by US vice president Pence underlines Trump's support for the Brexiteers.

The claim is that border posts will set off an armed campaign and destabilise the North. This is nonsense. The historical analogy is the IRA's 50s campaign which was easily defeated. What will happen is a political re-run of the old Northern Ireland - intransigent unionism firmly supported by British reaction. In the longer run this is bad news for Irish nationalism and for Sinn Fein. Their claims of victory and progress towards a United Ireland will be exposed as false.

Some optimists now claim that Brexit will weaken the Democratic Unionist Party and build a cross community liberalism that will erode partition. In the new situation since the loss of a Tory majority Johnson may well discard the DUP and Northern  Ireland to get a deal. These views are mistaken. The DUP are vulnerable in one or two seats, but in general their vote has hardened. The whole idea that the relationship between unionism and British imperialism rested on a voting pact was simply daft. A current looking back to the days of Empire will not surrender Ireland and the DUP have no choice but to continue as colonial supplicants.

Sinn Fein, now one of the most pro-European parties in Ireland, are speaking in tongues. They have revived the old idea of the "Nationalist family," with the capitalist parties, long discredited, trumpet the legal status of the GFA and mutter about their friends in the USA who will come to their aid.

The Left groups tried and failed to float an Irish Lexit. Their brand of reformism saw a decline  in votes at the last election and they are reduced to joining with the trade union leaderships in hoping that the workers will not be asked to bear the brunt of economic downturn. Given that this is what happened following the credit crunch and that squeezing the workers was facilitated by the union bureaucracy, this seems a faint hope.

There is an obvious solution to the crisis - a United Ireland. This has been the object of repeated initiatives by Sinn Fein and other Republican groups. Unfortunately, all these initiatives are within the Good Friday Agreement and would be restricted to a border poll within the six county area. A more fundamental problem is that both London and Dublin are opposed. Dublin is happy with the status quo and terrified of any revival of the national question. London, insofar as they pay any attention at all, can no longer remember why they made any, even cosmetic, concessions to Sinn Fein.

In the battle between Britain and Europe the solution is an independent Ireland, a workers republic and a United Socialist States of Europe. However Irish political leaders support Europe despite the enormous cost to Irish workers of the European banking crisis and they also support the partitionist solution imposed by Britain despite the collapse of the Good Friday institutions and the growing corruption and sectarianism of the northern statelet.

A new vehicle to express the broad anti-imperialist sentiment within  the working class will have to emerge. The chaos of Brexit and the increased political and economic oppression that will follow will be strong forces stimulating that rebirth.

Brexit update 1 Britain
Brexit update 3 The Left

Return to top of page