David Davis, Britain’s former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and a leading hardline supporter of Brexit, speaking to the German magazine, Der Spiegel:
DER SPIEGEL: Why is the prime minister’s deal so bad in your point of view?
Davis: Well, firstly, because it basically sets out to break up the United Kingdom. It would separate the province of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, something we as the Conservative and Unionist Party have always set our face against.
DER SPIEGEL: But Northern Ireland has already been constitutionally different from the rest of the United Kingdom since the peace agreement of 1998, anyway.
Davis: Only where it chooses to be, not by imposition. The simple truth is that Good Friday Agreement requires the approval of both communities, Protestant and Catholic, for any constitutional change. And that hasn’t been sought in this context.
Despite the claim by Davis, the draft withdrawal deal between the European Union and Britain does not set out to “break up the United Kingdom”. Its purpose is to facilitate an orderly withdrawal by the UK from the EU while maintaining the delicately balanced peace in the British-ruled north-east of Ireland. This is in line with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, a set of regional and international accords which officials in Brussels and Dublin seem more intent on respecting – and protecting – than their counterparts in London. Including, it seems, a substantial number of elected legislators in the House of Commons.
Secondly, the Conservative Party MP implicitly accepts that “Northern Ireland has been constitutionally different” from Britain for decades. In fact, the Good Friday Agreement and its addenda simply underline that difference. Britain’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland is just that. A dysfunctional, problematic and troublesome legacy of British colonialism among the Irish, and one which has required bespoke management by London – and latterly, Dublin – since the first two decades of the 20th century. And that has not changed in the first two decades of the 21st century.
Finally, Davis acknowledges that any substantial change to the position of the Six Counties vis-à-vis the United Kingdom, Ireland or the European Union must require the approval of both communities in the disputed region, Irish nationalist and British unionist. And that any contemplated change is not a matter for the authorities in the UK alone to decide. Given that most voters in north-east of Ireland have expressed support for continued and unbroken membership of the EU in the Brexit referendum of 2016, it follows that London has no right to impose its anti-European wishes upon them. Which is what an English-driven Brexit represents. As the Tory politician and former cabinet minister admits, the Six Counties can be different if it “chooses” to be. And arguably, with a pro-EU majority, it has done so.