Want to know how important Ireland is to the average U.K. politician?
Watch what happens when the cameras are turned off. History is full of British politicians privately grousing about how worthless we really are, but uncharacteristically so is the news now. Message: the gloves are coming off.
This week we learned that a senior Tory party figure was disgusted that little Ireland appeared to be setting the Brexit withdrawal agreement terms for the U.K. "Ireland needs to know its place," the grandee sniffed.
And last week many people were also shocked by the Conservative M.P. Priti Patel's heartless threat of using potential food shortages after Brexit to bring Ireland to heel in the current negotiations, but I wasn't. That high handed attitude is practically a job requirement for a Tory member of parliament.
Over one million Irish people died (and another million fled overseas) during the Great Hunger between 1845 and 1849 yet it was Patel's greatest hope last week that Ireland would suffer the pangs of hunger again under a no-deal Brexit.
Sit with this for a moment. Since a new impact study suggests a no-deal would hit Ireland even harder than the U.K., Patel suggested the British government should have used that finding as a tactic during negotiations with the E.U.
She told the press: “This latest paper appears to show the government were well aware Ireland will face significant issues in a no-deal scenario. Why hasn’t this point been pressed home during the negotiations? There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal.”
So when push comes to shove here's another might-makes-righter Sir Charles Trevelyan, come to scold the Irish for the failures of her government.
Instead of positioning Britain as a dependable neighbor and friend, she and her fellow Brexiteers touched the Irish third rail and contemplated a move to weaponize cross-channel trade and food supplies, whilst most of them remain utterly oblivious to the grotesque historical echoes.
Later Patel groused on Twitter that her comments had been taken out of context, but precisely what context a British government minister threatening the Irish with food shortages looks better in she refrained from mentioning.
We shouldn't just take offense at Patel's comments, we should heed it. As this lamentable civil war between Eurosceptic and Europhile British ministers drags on we would do well to remember who our real friends in this never-ending farce have been.
European commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker has been a staunch ally of Irish interests in Brussels. “Ireland,” he reinterpreted this week, “will never be left alone.”
This is why the negotiations have been so galling to senior British ministers and the DUP, who still have the muscle memory of unquestioned supremacy, but no Empire left to back it up with and get their way now.
We warned them, over and over, before they took their disastrous Brexit referendum, that the Good Friday Agreement would be threatened by a leave vote. We warned them that they had made a legal commitment not to reinstate the British border in Ireland. We warned them that the Irish border backstop issue would complicate their departure in ways that could prove ruinous. They did not listen.
This week the British government vote on their own Brexit plan was called off at the eleventh hour. Meanwhile, in Brussels, Juncker told the press the withdrawal agreement deal is not up for renegotiation because the so-called backstop is an insurance policy arrangement aimed at avoiding a return to a hard border along the 310-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Holding the British accountable for their historical and legal commitments isn't an act of sabotage or hostility, it's a measure of sense. If we seem to exist for them only insofar as we cause them occasional discomfort, well so be it.
Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Simon Coveney this week defended the government's insistence on a backstop. "I hope we can provide Theresa May with the reassurance she needs to be able to go back convincingly to Westminster to show that the backstop is not something to be feared by the British Parliament, but actually something that is very much consistent with the responsibilities of both the British government and Irish government, and to the people of this island,” he told the press.
Coveney also said the Irish government would now ramp up its plans for a no-deal Brexit scenario. “We are now actively, not only preparing for that but taking actions to ensure that if necessary we will be ready on 29 March for Britain to leave the EU without a deal,” he said. Ireland has moved on.
Again, we didn't ask for this. We warned the British against this. But clearly, they only listen to us when it affects them. The rest of the time they don't give us a thought. That's what has made this mess so illuminating. We don't need Britain more than they need us. We're one of the most food secure nations on the planet.
The indefensible fantasy that the stakes are higher for the E.U. trading bloc losing one member than for one member losing its entire trade, regulatory and support framework overnight led the British into this mess. Hopefully, it will point them out of it too.
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