One of the odder complaints emanating from those Irish writers and commentators who have devoted their professional careers to acting as apologists for British rule in Ireland, both past and present, is the claim that the country has been swept by a wave of anglophobic sentiment in response to the threatened and actual chaos created by the United Kingdom’s decision in 2016 to leave the European Union. In reality there is precious little evidence in the domestic press of any irrational animosity directed towards our crisis-prone neighbours to the east. On the contrary, the chief reaction in the news media has been one of dismay and confusion as many journalists have found themselves suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the historical weight of the Irish republican argument that we must “…break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils” in order for the nation to heal and prosper. The toxicity of Brexit has reinvigorated that principle even if no one in government or politics is ideologically – or psychologically – prepared to address the British Question just yet.
Even stranger than the above theatrics from Britain’s Irish defenders has been the howls of outrage at the supposed ill-treatment of the nation’s British and unionist minority. We have been told in recent days by the usual suspects that the fears and aspirations of the pro-union community in the north-east of the country have been unfairly made secondary to the national need to counter the many negative effects of the UK’s fumble-footed withdrawal from the EU. But how could it be otherwise when the main elected representatives of loyalism are almost wholly in favour of a hard Brexit, no matter that it would lead to some form of crash-and-burn retreat from Europe? And as we have seen over the last week, even the recent compromise draft agreement reached between Brussels and London has proven too much for the likes of the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Traditional Unionist Voice and the Progressive Unionist Party.
In large part, the DUP and its allies supported the anti-European campaign in 2016 (and before) because they saw it as a means of undermining the Irish-British peace accords of the late 1990s. A mechanism to roll back nearly two decades of north-south cooperation and reintegration. A strategy to undermine demographic change in the UK-occupied Six Counties by effectively reviving and reinforcing the frontier around the contested region. If the Conservative Party’s europhobic wing and the fruitcakes in UKIP primarily sought an “Empire 2.0” from an exit from Europe, the hibernophobic DUP primarily sought a “Partition 2.0”. Arlene Foster’s party gambled with an anti-peace settlement Brexit and may have lost their wager. Arguing that we should give them a second play of the game or change the rules to make it more favourable for them seems not just foolish but potentially dangerous.