In a recent discussion stemming from an article examining the mysterious – and unprecedented – pro-Brexit campaign donations gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party last year, I made this point on the politics driving the DUP’s eagerness for the United Kingdom to abandon its membership of the European Union:
If one looks at the DUP’s history up to the early 2000s, a party of militant unionist protest, the enthusiasm for Brexit is very much of a type with attacks on the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement, the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, etc. It is burning the village to save the village. While the DUP was clearly happy with Stormont power-sharing, under its own terms, anything with the potential of reinforcing partition was too good an opportunity to miss. The DUP was not just driven by anti-EU sentiment, Euroscepticism to the nth degree. The party knew full well, at least the thinkers did, that that a likely outcome of Brexit was a real frontier between the north-east and the rest of the island. It was a way of hoisting the Union Jack that little bit higher on the northern pole. Arguably the “fleg” protests and the perceived culture war played into this.
If an EU-UK “customs border” is located in the Irish Sea or a special status is granted the north I would lay money on the DUP fighting either.
For many DUP backwoodsmen the last 19 years has seen a form of soft reunification in the border counties not a softening of the border. There is a difference, even if only in the eye of the beholder.
Which ties in nicely to this observation by Vincent Boland for the Financial Times:
Fifty-six per cent of voters in Northern Ireland backed the Remain side in the EU referendum, but most border unionists voted for Brexit… Some did so out of dislike for “Europe”: the Democratic Unionist party, the main voice of Ulster unionism in 2017, suffers from an acute case of what the historian Henry Patterson calls “Little Ulsterism”. For at least some of them, the referendum was an opportunity for a reaffirmation of the Irish border, for it to become once more a dividing line between two nations.
For border unionists, the border reassures them not just that they are British, but that they are not Irish.
Undoubtedly, this is the main motivating force for many unionist voters in the UK-administered Six Counties when it comes to Brexit. What we have witnessed since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the all-party and intergovernmental peace settlement, is not so much the establishment of a “soft border” as a gradual movement towards “soft reunification”. The partition line between the north-east and the rest of the country has been rendered a historical anomaly over the last two decades. A toxic legacy of colonialism that was slowly erasing itself. For some rural pro-union communities, and the core DUP vote, that made the outworking of the peace process, in the words of the late unionist leader James Molyneaux, “…the worst thing that has ever happened to us.”
The old pre-2000s’ sentiment, that determination to find more comfort in war than in peace, still influences some aspects of political unionism. From Derry Today:
Calls were made today by two Unionist councillors for British Army troops to be deployed on the streets of Derry following the terror attack in Manchester earlier this week.
Independent Unionist Councillor Maurice Devenney said that troops should be deployed because of the increased terror threat in the wake of the Manchester attack.
His call was seconded by the UUP’s Derek Hussey…
The differences between deploying British soldiers on British streets and British soldiers on Irish streets should be obvious to most.