If we are to believe the reports from the Irish and international press, it seems that Theresa May, the lacklustre prime minister of the United Kingdom, has finally squared off against Jacob Rees-Mogg, the de facto head of the most vociferously Europhobic faction in her ruling Conservative Party. During a briefing with 150 backbench MPs discussing the UK’s stalled negotiations with the European Union over the country’s withdrawal from the continental bloc, the premier reprimanded the fellow Tory when he tried to challenge her on the question of Britain’s currently invisible border around its north-eastern legacy colony on the island of Ireland. According to the Mirror newspaper in London:
Mr Rees-Mogg, who leads the powerful European Research Group, was said to have antagonised Mrs May by suggesting that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be left open after Brexit.
A source said: “Jacob said, ‘If there was a border poll, I have no doubt we would win, as the UK did in Scotland [in the 2014 independence referendum].’
Mrs May said, ‘I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out.’
In response to having his partisan opinions challenged in front of his peers, and then leaked to the newspapers, the chief Brexiteer has taken to the media in the United Kingdom to obliquely criticise Theresa May and her handling of the UK-EU discussions (with more explicit side-swipes at Dublin and Brussels). This has been accompanied by threats from his Eurosceptic fellow-travellers, focusing on the prime minister’s shaky parliamentary coalition with the deeply hibernophobic and Brexit-loving Democratic Unionist Party. All of which leaves one to conclude that the politics of Britain have reached a Balkanised nadir not seen since the early 1970s, surpassing even the divisive era of Margaret Thatcher. Though unlike in the latter period, there is relatively little evidence of a vigorous countercultural movement emerging from the Left. One way or another, the more extreme elements of the British Right are in the ascendant in London and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.