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By Jason Michael
STORMONT ASSEMBLY LEADER, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, has learned the hard way – something she must have seen coming – that the British government was always going to put the interests of England before the needs of her fragile Ulster fiefdom. As was only to be expected, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, fully capitulated to the European negotiating position on Tuesday; delivering a draft proposal to Brussels which effectively moved the United Kingdom’s 1921 imposed border in Ireland from its current location encircling the six counties to the Irish Sea between Belfast and Stranraer. On Tuesday night, ahead of the British Cabinet’s decision, her party released a statement outlining its concerns. It states:
An agreement which places new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will fundamentally undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. That is not acceptable [to the DUP]. Over time, such a deal will weaken the Union. No unionist Prime Minister could argue that such a deal is in the national interest.
In this the DUP is at once perfectly correct and utterly wrong. Yes, trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the island of Great Britain will undermine the integrity of the UK union state. Sovereignty in legislative and economic matters are the two essential ingredients of any state. Without the power to control these elements of state in Northern Ireland legislative divergence, over time, will create a de facto situation in which Great Britain and Northern Ireland are no longer able to function in any real and meaningful sense as a unified state entity. Northern Ireland will become, for all intents and purposes other than strictly constitutionally, a British overseas territory over which the London government has no effective control.
In practical terms this divergence means that British rule on the island of Ireland will come to an end, ultimately bringing about the conditions in which a border poll on the constitutional future of the six counties will be reduced to little more than a legal formality. Given the population demographics of the province and the mutual economic interdependence of Ireland and the six counties, the long-term consequence of this deal – if agreed – will be the eventual unification of Ireland.
Where the DUP is wrong is in its assumption that such a deal would not be “in the national interest.” The United Kingdom is not a nation. While it may function and behave like a nation-state in the international arena, the UK is a union state composed of three nations and a fraction of a province of a fourth nation. Theresa May is acting in the national interest of the nation, her nation – England. The current constitutional arrangement of the UK bears this out. The function of the union state – centred in the English capital, and with its democratic inequality favouring England over the combined opinion of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – is to serve the needs of England. At this moment in time the overriding need of England is to avoid a disastrous exit from the European Union and the chaotic ramifications this would have for the well-being of the British state. Right now, as the British government sees it, England’s national interest is best served by sacrificing Northern Ireland.
Britain’s agenda apropos the need to cut the six counties loose is made perfectly obvious in the wording of the draft proposal:
This Protocol sets out arrangements necessary to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, avoid a hard border and protect the 1998 [Good Friday] Agreement in all its dimensions (Article 1.3).
The provisions of [European] Union law… shall also apply, under the conditions set out therein, to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland. Quantitative restrictions on exports and imports shall be prohibited between the Union and Northern Ireland (Article 6.2).
In sum, the Northern Irish constitutional settlement established by the GFA will remain in force “in all its dimensions,” the open border between Ireland and the rest of Ireland will remain open and unrestricted, and Northern Ireland will remain, as Ireland is, in the Single Market – all of which is regulated in Brussels and not London. The present partition border will not function as an international border between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and to make this workable the international customs and tariffs border will be relocated to the Irish Sea.
However, this is not yet a done deal. This proposal – agreed by the EU and the British government – still has to be ratified in the House of Commons. There is not a snowballs chance in hell of the DUP supporting it and neither will perhaps forty Brexiteer Tory MPs. Mrs May, if this is to become a concrete agreement as part of the final Brexit deal, will have to seek support from at least fifty Labour MPs. That should not be too much of a problem. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is to opposition what water is to fire – this will most likely have the support of the Commons.
Is this development good for the cause of Scottish independence? In my own opinion yes, but with two important provisos. Scottish independence is as much about dismantling the British state as it is about Scotland’s self-determination. One cannot be got without the other. What this means is that Scottish independence and Irish reunification are two theatres of the same fight. Scotland’s support of Irish unity both weakens the hegemonic dominance of the English state over these islands and exposes the lie that there are no exceptions to the one-nation UK exit from the EU. This proposed deal demonstrates quite clearly that there are exceptions, and those have been made for everywhere but Scotland – Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, and the UK’s sovereign base on Cyprus (Wales, as a Brexit supporting nation, is irrelevant to this discussion).
The SNP should support this deal on condition of my first proviso that an exception also be made for Scotland, a national member of the United Kingdom which voted by the largest majority of any nation to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. It is still possible the British government will not find the numbers from Labour to get this proposal past parliament and this eventuality would put the SNP and the Scottish government in an excellent position to horse trade votes in exchange for special status for Scotland – a situation that would, in time, bring about independence by divergence. The second proviso is that this can only be done if the SNP is willing to change tack and be willing to show more militancy in its relationship with London.
The capitulation of the British government to the EU and Ireland was not the result of a game of brinksmanship. The only one playing this game was Britain – and it lost by blinking first. The EU and Ireland were playing no such game. They simply held the British government to its obligations and past commitments and refused to budge. This was the winning strategy, and one Scotland must now adopt. The Scottish government and the SNP are facing a closing window of opportunity and they can win only by saying exactly what they want and sticking to their guns – prepared to be more forceful in their determination not to budge. This is the only strategy Britain seems capable of understanding. It has been perfectly executed by Ireland, and Ireland – a small independent nation – has won.
If Scotland cannot find the minerals to stand firm now, it will lose this opportunity and will find itself for a while longer in the situation it is presently in – an English vassal state soon to be locked outside of the European Union. Special status has proven to be the norm as London comes to a fuller realisation of the immovability of Brussels’ resolve. Scotland is the exception to this rule because the control of Scotland’s oil and gas resources is essential to the future of the UK outside the EU. Refusing special status to Scotland is very much in England’s national interest. The job for Scotland now is to assert and safeguard everything that is in its own national interest.
Barnier says Brexit deal prevents ‘hard’ Irish border
6 thoughts on “Brexit: Britain Blinked First”
Thanks again Jason. You paint a pretty picture of the beginning of the end of England’s empire.
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Will the SNP have the ‘minerals’? I hope, hope, hope they will and fear they will not.
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“This proposed deal demonstrates quite clearly that there are exceptions, and those have been made for everywhere but Scotland – Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, and the UK’s sovereign base on Cyprus (Wales, as a Brexit supporting nation, is irrelevant to this discussion).” I defer to your proximity and expertise (which I accept) concerning these matters, yet I also follow Plaid Cymru as they seek to promote independence for Wales. It seems to me they have become more public and vocal recently about their desire for independence in the presence of the turmoil created by Tory thirst for Brexit. I want freedom for Occupied Ireland and a 32 County unification as well as independence for Scotland and Wales. I enjoy reading your articles. Saoirse!
In case you haven’t seen this
Hopefully the penny will drop for the NI and Scottish Unionists. They are a convenient lot of fools, being played by the English Imperialists for a long long time. They need to also wake up before Scotland is subsumed by English Imperialism.
This is one of the most incisive pieces I have read on our constitutional position.
If the SNP stand firm and voters stand firm behind them (no staying at home as in 2017), we can do it.