Nico Hines, the London editor of The Daily Beast, has co-written a rather misleading article on the question of the United Kingdom’s retreat from the European Union with the sinister headline “Irish and Scottish Nationalists Plotting to Break Up U.K.“. Really? According to the piece, the UK’s chaotic exit from the EU has led:
…Irish nationalists to believe they can seize on renewed border disputes to secure a referendum on the reunification of Ireland. A senior Irish nationalist told The Daily Beast: “It’s all being driven by Brexit.”
The campaign for a united Ireland is being led by Sinn Féin… A party insider boasted to The Daily Beast that they had been stunned by their ability to combat the British government’s position from the heart of Europe. “We didn’t expect to have such a strong hand,” he said.
Sinn Féin is a member of the European United Left–Nordic Green Left parliamentary grouping in Brussels, which has one of six seats on the Brexit steering group. “[Our representative] has more or less come to us for their direction so we have been able to shape a lot. The language on the special status, the backstop has more or less come in from us,” a party official said.
…a Sinn Féin party member was chosen as the staffer to work for the group’s Brexit representative. A Brussels official told The Daily Beast: “It’s widely agreed that Sinn Féin have been the driving force in the European Parliament.”
The strict terms on the Irish backstop—an issue that was first pushed by Sinn Féin, which began to draw up studies into the compatibility of the Good Friday Agreement and E.U. treaties—have proved anathema to the hard Brexiteers.
Unfortunately the claims above are incorrect. The origins of the Backstop Protocol in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement can be found in the final months of 2017 and the torturous negotiations between Dublin and Brussels on one hand and London on the other, during which all sides agreed to the inclusion of “Option C” in any subsequent treaty. This was a short clause declaring the need for continued regulatory alignment between Britain’s legacy colony in the north-east of the Ireland and the rest of the island to protect the delicate post-war peace in the region. This understanding eventually became the “backstop”, which initially applied to the Six Counties until the UK insisted on its expansion to include the UK-proper. Sinn Féin was certainly not the “driving force” on that deal, which grew organically out of the debates between European and British officials, albeit greatly aided by the confusion and ineptitude of the latter contingent.
The Irish government and much of Dublin’s political class has come to the conclusion that the possibility of a “hard border” around the disputed British territory in the north of the country represents something of an existential threat to the stability of the State. The principal proponent of that position has been Fine Gael, a party with a strong sense of historical “ownership” over the security of the State, a traditional sentiment which has been latterly coupled with a form of almost neo-liberal “New Ireland” nationalism under its contemporary leadership. In truth, for a majority of FG politicians the worse outcome of Brexit would be a Partition 2.0 or a Reunification 2.0. The challenge for the government of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney is that in steering the nation clear of the first it is inevitably skirting close to the latter. And so far, Sinn Féin has just been another passenger in that journey.