Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. That New Testament warning springs to mind reading this contribution in The Irish Times from two pro-Brexit academics in the United Kingdom, Peter Ramsay, who teaches law at the London School of Economics, and Chris Bickerton, who lectures in politics at Cambridge University. Their opinion piece, calling for greater cooperation from Ireland on the UK’s difficult withdrawal negotiations with the European Union, begins with a line designed to win over Irish hearts and minds:
We have always believed it would be better if Ireland were united under one sovereign Irish government.
The article then spells out in a seemingly reasonable fashion why Dublin and Brussels should drop their “backstop agreement” with London, which ensures a border-less system of regulatory alignment on the island, in favour of minimal customs arrangements around the British-administered Six Counties. A proposal the authors speak of in highly positive terms, arguing that it will have little impact on north-south communications and development, and will maintain existing diplomatic and economic relations between both nations.
All of which seems quite reassuring until you read a similar piece from the duo published somewhat earlier on the campaigning europhobic website, The Full Brexit, where they write in rather less assuring – and rather more bellicose – terms:
…some cameras and some capacity to make spot checks will probably have to be added at the border, however inventive the technical solutions available.
The UK government should therefore take the backstop off the table.
To remove the backstop, however, means doing precisely what the UK government has refused to do ever since the negotiations with the EU over Brexit began: to assert its sovereignty in Northern Ireland.
The chief anxiety is that Northern nationalists will react to any re-imposition of a physical border with violence. This particular example of shroud-waving is perhaps the most egregious example of the Remain elite’s “Project Fear”.
What is most striking about the discussion of a return to violence in Northern Ireland is not the potency of the actual threat but the willingness of politicians to invoke that threat as a reason for avoiding any change. The potential threat of violence by tiny organisations, which represent a very small part of the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland, is being exploited to frustrate a decision made by the majority of the UK population as a whole. Behind the intransigence of Michel Barnier and Leo Varadkar we find potential threats from diehard republican grouplets, effectively recruited as the armed wing of the European Union. In London, we find a British political class that has been willing to send its armies on bloody adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is unwilling to face down even the slightest hint of violence closer to home to ensure that a democratic decision over the constitutional future of the UK can be implemented.
In other words, if the Irish object with unexpected vigour to the imposition of a “hard border” around the north-eastern British legacy colony on the island of Ireland, the government in Britain can always fall back on its old policy – and send in the army.
And this, a chairde, is the argument of the intellectual Brexiteers and Leavers in the UK?