The political humiliation of Theresa May, the inept prime minister of the United Kingdom, continues, with the news this morning that the belligerent leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, has finally deigned to take a phone call from the Tory premier. It is a truly bizarre spectacle to witness the head of a tiny, ultra-right grouping with a grotesque history of fostering religious and ethnic sectarianism and violence, dictating the future actions of not just the government of the UK but also twenty-seven other national governments in the European Union and the entire EU administration. Imagine the outrage, the protests there would be if Marine Le Pen and the Front National in France or Jörg Meuthen and the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany were holding Europe to hostage, issuing threats and demands to sovereign states via their respective governments. And doing so with a significant portion of their domestic press cheering them on, even at the risk of causing immense damage to the stability and prosperity of the region.
The DUP objective in the Brexit debate remains the defining objective of British unionism in this nation since its emergence as a definable political ideology in the 19th century: the maintenance and defence of Britain’s colonial-state on the island of Ireland. That was the aim in the late 1800s and early 1900s when unionist politicians and groupings repeatedly thwarted some degree of autonomy for the country, however insignificant. It was the motivation behind the violence and threats of violence against the conciliatory attempts to implement “home rule” between 1912 and 1914. Of course, this pro-union tactic ultimately resulted in the United Kingdom, and its overseas separatist minority, suffering the loss of four-fifths of its Medieval possession across the Irish Sea. The reduction of the UK colony to a besieged rump in the north-east of the country was a failure for London and its offshoots not a success. Partition was a desperate measure to stave off an even greater loss, leaving Britain hanging on to a turbulent frontier outpost forever on the edge of collapse.
Now Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds and the Democratic Unionists as a whole are repeating the same tactics and mistakes of the past. They are turning the Brexit negotiations into a crisis, while the Conservative Party and minority government is split between those who are eager to play the “Orange Card” for their own selfish or partisan reasons, and those who are too incompetent or weak to do anything but follow along. In the end Ireland and its people – or peoples – will pay the price for the wilful intransigence of the DUP and the Tories, as both pursue some ersatz dream of an empire restored. But the ultimate cost will be laid at the door of the British pro-union and separatist minority on this island. For their political leaders are writing the death warrant of the legacy colony they have fought so desperately to maintain over the last two hundred years.
The British political and journalistic classes may be reaching for their stale and patronising metaphors of yore, expressing dismay as the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerge from the mists, but they fail to realise that the bells are tolling for them, not for us…