REMAIN v LEAVE QUAGMIRE
Brexit would appear to have divided Britain into two opposing, irreconcilable camps: Leave versus Remain. In truth it was a polarizing struggle long before the 2016 referendum but it was only thanks to the converging currents within the Conservative Party and right-wing sympathisers that this fundamental divergence found itself shoehorned into a practical binary question.
Before 2016 it was a marginal Tory hardliner dream. Since 2016 it has dominated the whole UK socio-political spectrum.
It’s been a divisive, chaotic counterfactual debate and the singular mix of utilitarian reality, vague but violent contrarianism and nationalist fantasy has tested the political system to its limit. In the mainstream media and in Westminster, with no absolute majority prepared to throw caution to the wind (or face prosaic reality and personal culpability) the impossible goal has been mired in slowly infiltrating a solution that both appease short term demands of Parliamentary blocs and satisfy long-term objectives of enough members to cobble together a majority capable of holding up long enough to make progress.
In a way it’s testimony to the robustness of the system we’ve gotten this far with only a dozen members leaving (or being ejected) from either of the big parties. Mostly it’s been a maelstrom of conflicting opinion but a relatively stable evolution – if there’s any at all – when it comes to actions, votes, actual policy. Where reality and policy can’t be reconciled, it’s the latter must adjust. Or be postponed.
BRITAIN, IRELAND AND THE EU
Since the UK approved the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 by 498 votes to 114 against, the European Union has carried out negotiations with reasonableness and patience. It’s been needed. Despite Theresa May’s red line intransigence and tight-lipped refusal to give details in round table discussions where the only details under discussion are the UK government’s, in the face of rabid provocative misrepresentation across much of the UK media and whatever latest antagonistic hardliner rhetoric is being amplified by front page spin-doctors, the EU has been remarkably consistent.
EU equanimity may be more to do with the simplicity of the position than any unusual maturity among EU27 leaders. The negotiations have a simple defining flashpoint. There’s little room for different motives to come into play. Whatever the posturing there’s an unavoidable, undeniable place where Brexit rubber meets the Reality road: the Irish border.
The Irish Question was at the forefront of British politics a century ago and it’s back with a vengeance today. It has been “resolved” for long periods of time but bubbles up under conditions the UK seems unwilling or unable to prevent. The Irish Question comes to the fore whenever the UK acts with Imperial high-handedness, escalating in violence if Britain refuses to step back from abusive entitlement (in whatever form) until public opinion in the UK forces the government to reverse sociopathic foreign policy. It’s amazing to find this pattern repeated in 2019.
Britain has a lamentable history with Ireland – culminating in the export of Scottish protestants to Ulster in the 19th Century and Home Rule Partition in the 20th – but in an irony that’s risible it’s so undeserved, this very divide-and-rule cynicism in the late 1940s, aimed at making a pig’s breakfast of the island of Ireland post-partition, is coming to the rescue of the United Kingdom in 2019. What’s more, the evil British act is today a perfect object lesson in geopolitical reality over nationalist fantasy.
Centuries of sectarian violence, perpetuated by Partition and Britain’s continued cavalier militarism in Ulster, finally came to an end with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Signed by the Blair government, it was only possible to reconcile the opposing views because of Thatcher’s single market customs union. The frictionless trade and common economic policy of the evolving EU had allowed the peaceful removal of the border between the UK and Ireland, the only land border between Britain and the EU.
Ireland made concessions to the bigger power, accepting the Common Travel Area and eschewing a full place in Schengen. No border meant no need for a united Ireland. No border meant no need for armed forces at the checkpoints. No border meant free movement of the Irish people north and south. The Good Friday Agreement enshrined all of this. Small wonder it won the Nobel Peace Prize for its ornery signatories.
It passed unnoticed at the time but Brexit has brought the reality into sharp focus: the Good Friday Agreement and peace in Ireland could not have been achieved without the European Union memberships superseding regional division.
For all the fire and brimstone partisanship of the loyalists (now the DUP) and the foxhole guerrilla tradition of the RA (now Sinn Fein) the Belfast peace accords signed in 1998 were signed unconditionally by all parties.
Balancing the mutual respect for national sovereignty within the context of a transnational union making borders unnecessary was one of the EU’s greatest aspirations and has become its most enduring proofs of concept.
The single market hadn’t only brought about the peace process; it made peace the path of least resistance, the default. It ended the violence and allowed peace in the island of Ireland. Nothing else could have brought the protagonists to the solution.
A UNITED KINGDOM
There can be no return of a border in Ireland. Nobody wants a return to terrorism and perpetual conflict. This is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and irrevocably woven into the Irish Constitution.
There can be no break up of the United Kingdom that looks to sever Ulster from the mainland and sell the Unionists down the river. This would be a betrayal of millions and would set in motion a domino effect that puts the whole Union at risk.
The Good Friday Agreement must be honoured because it puts in clear terms the only reality possible for peace in Ireland; not because it chooses one particular solution from many. It was agreed by sworn enemies, a rare paradigm of “everybody wins”.
THE VOTER HAS A DUTY OF CARE
Do you as an individual voter care about making a choice that condemns millions of Irish and British citizens to a violent degraded future, by throwing up a border or selling out Northern Ireland’s sovereignty?
Do you as an individual voter choose to face this choice without flinching and let these undisputed facts define the subsequent possibilities of your own political position? If not, you’re trying to deny reality. This is a path with no destination except a coming day of reckoning; whatever capital you might enjoy in the short term.
It’s irresponsible and playing fast and loose with your fellow human beings, to try to evade this simple truth.
In 2016, it could be argued, most hadn’t considered these points in detail and that few of us realised certain facts were irreconcilable.
There’s nothing criminal, after all, in voting against treaties that imposed limits on the freedom of the British government to act any way it wants; nor in voting against continuing to subsidize far away peoples at the expense of those close to home.
But that was then and this is now.
Today there’s no excuse for not knowing the consequences of a choice that stands in opposition to the material truth of the real world.
BLAME IS A SMOKESCREEN
It’s no use blaming intransigence in Brussels or Dublin. All they’re doing is following the only path available, given the circumstances. They’re not so much holding their nerve as dealing with the facts.
The House of Commons isn’t to blame for refusing to enable a government whose own “red lines” fly in the face of reality.
The Brexit Tories aren’t to blame, in this instance, for voting not to break up the United Kingdom; whatever opinion you might have on their overall strategy.
In the end, the duty of care lies with the government and the voter.
Passions rise in Westminster because Brexit is a failure in this duty of care.
WHATEVER CHOICE FACE THE MUSIC
Remainers are so motivated against Brexit, even to the unusual extent of refusing to accept the referendum result, because it strikes at something more fundamental than democracy. It’s a polarisation between those who’re prepared to face reality and those who choose fantasy – ants versus grasshoppers, but with the grasshoppers forcing their choice on all the ants too.
More than anything else, though, the core motivation driving hardcore Brexiteers versus most of their opponents is a question of human tolerance, caring about the future of one’s fellow citizens and refusing to choose what’s expedient over what’s right.