The motivations behind the majority pro-leave result in the United Kingdom’s 2016 Brexit referendum are complex, though there is a strong presumption that much of the leave vote stemmed from feelings of post-imperial ennui or dissatisfaction among a sizable chunk of the British (for which one should largely read, English) general public. This sentiment was coupled with the suspicion that the country’s post-World War decline could be blamed in large part on the machinations of its historical rivals-turned-partners in the European Union. By freeing itself from the supposed “unfair” restrictions placed upon it by the EU, many voters hoped that the glory days of the Pax Britannica could be restored, albeit on a political, economic and cultural scale rather than a military one (though given the extreme nature of some characters and groups in the Leave campaign, one can never be sure).
However, for others, a greater motivation to support Brexit was found in the opportunity it presented to put clear blue water between Britain’s contested territory in the north-eastern corner of Ireland and the rest of the island. Or, perhaps more accurately, to revive a clear and very visible land frontier around the troubled region. That was certainly the inspiration for the backwoodsmen of the hard-right Democratic Unionist Party, regardless of any subsequent claims to the contrary. While some of the Brexiteers in the United Kingdom may be acting like the furious dog that chased and caught the car, and is now left puzzled what to do with it, the separatist core of political unionism knew the full consequences of an out vote for the UK – and its colonial offshoot across the Irish Sea.
Behind these actions were the DUP’s continued objection to those aspects of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which gave the nationalist majority in Ireland a sense of having achieved a form of “soft reunification”, a blurring of partition that made the British presence – or occupation – in the north-east of the country tolerable to most. The Democratic Unionists may have accepted those aspects of the peace accords which they found politically profitable, and which gave them back “their parliament” at Stormont, but such an accommodation only went so far. And Brexit was an instrument for a renewal of partition which the party could not ignore. Especially with the divisive centenary years of 2018-23 looming on the horizon.
This is attitude is perfectly summed up in the enduring animosity towards the nation-state of Ireland found in the political career and endeavours of the Labour Party representative in Britain, Kate Hoey. A fellow-traveller of the DUP, and sharing many of their more hibernophobic beliefs, the Vauxhall MP is never one to miss an opportunity to undermine good relations between both islands.
Take these two reports, published on the same day, by the right-wing Express newspaper in London:
Theresa May has been accused of surrendering to IRA terrorists by staunch Leaver Labour MP Kate Hoey after the Prime minister vowed to never put hi-tech cameras on the border post-Brexit.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley was lambasted by Brexiteer Ms Hoey during the cross-party European Scrutiny Committee.
It came after Ms Bradley told MPs the threat of violence meant it would be impossible to implement a “physical infrastructure” on the Northern Irish border.
And then this:
…the danger for the Republic of Ireland is that if we end up with their intransigence and their lack of support for the United Kingdom, we will end up with no deal whatsoever and that will be absolutely pretty terrifying for the Republic of Ireland.
“My view is that the new Taoiseach who has changed the attitude of the Irish Government to Brexit from his predecessor who was being very cooperative really needs to look at what he’s doing and to stop using the Belfast agreement as some kind of weapon against Brexit.
On one hand Kate Hoey decries those who issue threats, or give in to threats, while on the other she has repeatedly proven herself eager to issue plenty of her own when Ireland is in the crosshairs. Some people are not fighting for the Brexit vote of 2016 – they are still fighting the Irish-British Troubles of 1966-2005.