With the news that the European Union has comprehensively rejected the United Kingdom’s written proposals to deal with the anomalous position of its legacy colony in the north-east of Ireland, and specifically the future composition of any “Brexit border” around the contested region, the question remains: what next? According to media reports, the UK’s dual set of plans were subject to detailed and forensic analysis by senior EU officials before they were dismissed as unrealistic and unworkable.
Indeed, the impression one gets is of incredulity in Brussels when faced by London’s alternative suggestions to the present situation of an open and invisible frontier on the island. Notable among the rejected ideas is a scheme best described as a “look-the-other-way” option where authorities would simply ignore customs regulations for certain volumes or types of cross-border trade and traffic. As Britain’s former ambassador to the continental bloc recently pointed out, the country’s belief that it can find a technological solution to the border issue is now regarded as the “fantasy island unicorn model” in the capitals of Europe.
Despite the attempts of the right-wing British press to claim Eurosceptic solidarity and support from European Union member states like Poland and Hungary, both of which, like the United Kingdom, have swung significantly towards isolationism in recent years, there is very little evidence of any sympathy for the UK’s position across the EU. Suggestions to the contrary are more evidence of the “magical thinking” blinding the country’s politicians, officials and journalists to the realities of continental politics and interconnectivity.
Britain’s determination to go it alone, to maximise its disconnection from Europe through a so-called “hard Brexit”, can only come about by further diluting its control over the Six Counties. After all, that process began with the bilateral Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the subsequent multiparty Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the follow-on St. Andrews Agreement of 2006. In the interests of peace and good relations with its neighbour, the United Kingdom has been compromising its sovereignty over the occupied territory for three decades.
It follows, then, that the logical and sensible next step in the present crisis is the agreed transformation of “Northern Ireland” into a special economic zone of the UK and EU, with any proposed customs checks taking place at air- and seaports either side of the Irish Sea. That way, London could pursue its dreams of an Empire 2.0 unrestricted by the concerns of its former partners, while Dublin and Belfast (and Brussels) could continue the hard work of fostering peace, harmonisation and prosperity on the island.
Anything else is just the fevered dream of extremist right-wingers and Brexiteers in the United Kingdom and its colonial outpost in Ireland, of the xenophobic Conservative Party and the hibernophobic Democratic Unionist Party. A dream destined to lead the peoples of both island-nations back to a bloody and relentless nightmare from which they will all struggle to awake.