Watching from afar, one is left with the impression that the ongoing Brexit debate in London has taken on some of the worse aspects of a West End farce, complete with Theresa May as the genteel middle-class vicar’s daughter scurrying from crisis to crisis and Jeremy Corbyn as the bolshie working-class interloper lurking outside the French doors. However, even the most generous of critics would find it difficult to willingly suspend his or her disbelief at the ongoing theatrics in Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster. The comedic aspects of all this have been aptly illustrated by the chaotic reaction to the suggestion that a live television debate between the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the leader of the official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, should be held to discuss the draft withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. A proposal which was eventually dumped after days of confusion over the planned broadcast dates, times and TV networks to be involved.
Then you have influential right-wing figures like Charles Moore, the former newspaper editor and columnist, making arguments on the BBC against the UK-EU deal with absolutely no awareness of Irish and British history:
“…they don’t understand why people care about this and they didn’t see what the real issue at stake is. And this is why Mrs. May’s deal cannot possibly work. Because that backstop, whatever is being argued, is permanent and – or potentially permanent – and it is an annexation of part of our country. It does exactly what Mrs. May said she wouldn’t allow, which is to put part of the border of the United Kingdom down the Irish Sea cutting off part of our country… [Applause] It’s absolutely way out of order and it’s not making us free to control our own borders and make our own laws which is what she was talking about and promising all the time. So how could you possibly accept it if you believe in Brexit?”
When outside observers or disinterested commentators puzzle over why successive governments in London have been willing to pay a heavy price in lives and expenditure to maintain the United Kingdom’s shaky authority over its restless colony in the north-east of the island of Ireland they should remember that the UK is just as susceptible to territorial possessiveness as any other nation. And if nothing else, the Brexit campaign has proven that many people in Britain see the whole of Ireland as simply another region of their “British Isles” and are puzzled, frustrated or infuriated to discover that it is otherwise.