Two good things to come from Brexit

Friday is the 100 th anniversary of the Royal Assent to the UK Parliament’s Government of Ireland Act which partitioned the island of Ireland to provide two Parliaments, the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

It was an example of the great colonialist strategy of divide and rule. Well, 100 years later it is all coming unstuck. It is now a case of rule and divide.

Just as in 1920 (and again in 1947 in India) the poisonous fruit of political stupidity has a long gestation.

The Brexiteers will now get their Little England as the disunited kingdom crashes out of the European Union in two weeks’ time. And Ireland will get its long-desired unity.

If any good is to come of the madness of Brexit, it will be the unification of Ireland, and after 313 years the regaining of Scottish independence.

In Australia, the massive diaspora from the British Isles shakes its head in disbelief that their people – English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh – could have been so stupid as to vote to leave the EU in 2016.

It is like a 60 Minutes or 7.30 Report expose of a crooked financier who took innocent people’s money. Onlookers do not so much ask how could the financier be so wicked, but how could the duped people have been so stupid.

We expect the financier to be crooked. It goes with the territory. We expect Murdoch to be a self-interested propagandist. We expect Boris Johnson to be a duplicitous charlatan.

But we could not expect the stubborn, argumentative Yorkshiremen to fall for Brexit, nor a Cornishman or worse, when these regions were getting the largest subsidies and grants from the EU.

But in 2016 when the Scots and the Northern Irish were close to tears over the Brexit vote, they did not see that the heartless, brainless wicked thing to vote for Brexit would (as it will) ultimately lead to emancipation.

In a way, economics beats nearly everything. Even the most hard-bitten Protestant entrepreneur in Northern Ireland will prefer selling to the tariff- and regulation-free market in the island of Ireland and beyond to Europe than to selling to the rest of the newly independent UK fettered by an (ironic) array of regulation, tariffs and quotas.

In the 32 years since the Good Friday Agreement, violence has almost completely ended in Northern Ireland. The agreement contained several huge compromises. The Republic of Ireland relinquished its unconditional stance that the whole of the island of Ireland belonged to the Republic of Ireland. The UK agreed that people born in Northern Ireland (even if UK citizens) could apply for and hold Republic of Ireland passports and if, in the opinion of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, it looked as if there might be a majority in Northern Ireland for reunification, there would be a referendum on unity. 

A poll published in The Belfast Telegraph in February put support in Northern Ireland for a united Ireland at 45.4% with 46.8% wanting to remain in the UK. Post-Brexit chaos will easily tip that balance.

And the passport rule is proving to be an unforeseen undermining of Brexit-inspired British nationalism. Now 700,000 out of Northern Ireland’s population of 1.9 million have Republic of Ireland passports – more than half the adult population.

And in Scotland, long the beneficiary of EU subsidies and grants, opinion polls are showing support for independence in the mid-50s.

The Scots obviously feel that, economically, their voice has been heard in Brussels and post-Brexit is being ignored in Westminster.

And that is just the economic argument. It is important because it will often defeat an emotional one. But when the two are in parallel they form an historic force.

My guess is that within five years Ireland will be united peacefully after a referendum held in conditions where the result will be well-anticipated (like Australia’s, and indeed Ireland’s, same-sex marriage referendums) and that Scotland will follow Northern Ireland out of the UK and into the EU in a similar timeframe – irrespective of Boris Johnson’s Panglossian populism.

Tory forces in 1886 defeated the Bill of centre-left Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone to give home rule to a united Ireland. They enacted partition 100 years ago this week. And they contrived Brexit against the best interests of the mass of the British people. They are now reaping the whirlwind: a no-deal Brexit; chaos on the borders; hoarding and shortages.

But do not expect any British stiff upper lip. Times have changed. Expect the lips to quiver.

A no-deal Brexit poses a choice for the British Government. It must either re-erect a hard land border in Ireland with the prospect of a return to sectarian violence, or it must avoid that hard border and instead allow Northern Ireland to remain within the EU regulatory realm and have the customs border in the Irish Sea. 

The former is unacceptable (particularly with a Biden presidency). The later puts Northern Ireland de-facto in the EU. The de jure reunification with the south and membership of the EU cannot be far behind.

What a sorry episode. The British people were duped by Murdoch, the Russians, the mega-wealthy and the Tory ideologues into voting against their own best interests. In the next few weeks, they will pay the price. There is no going back to the good sense of the EU for Little England.

But the Scots and Northern Irish, who voted against Brexit by significant majorities, do not see themselves bound to that dismal, self-inflicted fate. Their economic future is with Europe and their emotional future is with self-identification. After the rank stupidity of the English to vote for Brexit, any residual emotional obligation to the United Kingdom has been forfeited, and rightly so.

When the British voted for Brexit they voted for Little England. On 1 January they will have put in place the inevitable steps to get it.

Crispin Hull

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 19 December 2020.

6 thoughts on “Two good things to come from Brexit”

  1. Beware of being smug over the English stupidity and the US Trump idiocy. We have enough climate deniers and dunderheads in this country we should be on the lookout to defend against.

  2. What a rubbish article. The author has no idea as to what the drivers behind the vote by the UK to leave the EU were. The call for Scottish independence was defeated in 2014 and if you include the abstentions and the Scottish people who live in England, the majority did not vote of Scots did not vote for Brexit. Scotland also gets gets much more in subsidies from the UK government than they do from the EU and the money that the EU liberally hand out comes from the UK taxpayers in the first place!
    As far as Ireland is concerned, Eire will be better off out of the EU as will many other countries. Watch this space!

  3. In many ways Brexit continues the long history of Britain. The Romans were London-centric as the Celts controlled the outer regions of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Henry VIII wasn’t the lovable rogue railing against Rome. It was a grab for power and wealth. The aristicracy in a largely feudal system pledged allegiance under the new Church or were excluded. Then we had the “religious wars” which extended west into Ireland and east into France. Napoleon’s European revolutionary period influenced both Ireland and England’s fractious relationship with France. These animosities still bedevil “Britain.” The general population has also been affected through generations of breakfast table conversations and social divisions. In early colonial Australia these divisions were still visible and played out over the decades through church, appointments, employment and schools. Australia will one day have to stand independently on its own two feet.

  4. The wonderful thing about England is that they never learn. They still think they are the centre of the world and deserve special privileges as a result. It is terrific that all of their blundering in Ireland will be undone because they once again shot themselves in the kneecap as a result of their blind arrogance. It is unfortunate that their cruelty will not be repaid but perhaps the rest of the world laughing at them will somehow be enough. Is there a single country where English rule or interference caused by indifference and self indulgence has not been better off without them and their cruelty arising from an arrogance they applied but never deserved?

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