Mark Collins – “How the Brexit vote could lead to a united Ireland”

Terry Glavin muses on what may be a great irony (Mr Glavin is proudly of southern Irish descent but in no way anti-British):

…This year in Ireland, everything was supposed to be about history [the 1916 Easter Rising] but now, out of the blue, the United Kingdom’s June 23 referendum on the European Union has dragged the thorniest questions about Anglo-Irish relations, and Irish national unity, straight out of the past, directly into the present, the possible and the political. On Tuesday, this was the banner headline in the Irish Independent: Get Ready for a United Ireland.

Of the many unanticipated consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, none was so ill considered as the potential damage a Leave vote would do to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the settlement that ended decades of sectarian violence and reconciled a 26-county Irish republic with British sovereignty in the U.K.’s six Ulster counties. The agreement, which allowed for shared citizenship and eliminated all the heavily guarded checkpoints on the absurd border between North and South, was predicated in no small measure on shared EU membership. Now, everything’s up in the air again.

In Northern Ireland, where a majority voted to remain within the EU, there has been such a run on requests for Irish passports that Ulster’s General Register Office, which handles births, deaths and marriages, has had to suspend its ordinary operations to handle the spike in applications. Unless some other legal route opens up, there is only one way for those in the U.K.’s six Ulster counties to get back into Europe, and it’s through the Irish Republic…

With the U.K. out of the EU, just one monumental entanglement to sort through is the Anglo-Irish Common Travel Area agreement, which has been in force in one form or another since 1923. Just how a post-EU Britain would reconstruct and maintain its only land border with Europe — a 500-kilometre winding line on Ireland’s map between Lough Foyle in the northwest and Warrenpoint, barely more than 100 kilometres north of Dublin — is anybody’s guess.

Then again, Ireland stands to benefit a great deal in the event foreign firms relocate in droves from Britain in order to hold onto their seamless trade arrangements with the EU’s 27 remaining member states. It’s a bit mean to say so out loud, but it is nevertheless tempting to recall the rallying cry of the Easter Rising: “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.”..

Northern Ireland is, most importantly, at peace with itself. The on-again, off-again sectarian warfare that was a legacy of its exclusion from the Irish Republic all those years ago was brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement and everything it entailed…

…you don’t need to be especially attuned to the peculiarities of Irish humour to find it just the tiniest bit amusing that in 2016 the British are treading perilously close to accomplishing by mistake what the heroes of 1916 failed to accomplish on purpose — a united 32-county republic. It is far too early for talk along those lines, of course. But still.

More from Terry Glavin

But would Protestant Ulster unionists really readily accept breaking with Britain and joining the republic? Earlier on Brexit

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


2 thoughts on “Mark Collins – “How the Brexit vote could lead to a united Ireland””

  1. The conclusion of a piece at the London Review of Books, July 28:

    “The End of Avoidance
    Martin Loughlin on the UK’s Constitutional Crisis

    Northern Ireland is different again. Its constitution is the product of a transnational settlement brokered between two sovereign states and contained in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The agreement saw constitution-building as critical to the move beyond civil conflict. It aimed to consolidate the peace process by establishing a constitution that institutionalises power-sharing between the two communities, unionist and nationalist, and enshrines the principles of equality, toleration and respect for difference. In this context, it is understandable that the citizens of Northern Ireland wouldn’t readily seek to remove themselves from an EU framework that fosters cross-border co-operation. Whether the Conservative government in Westminster had fully thought through the implications of the EU referendum for Northern Ireland is debatable.

    The conditions underpinning traditional claims of sovereignty have changed and will continue to change. Successive governments have failed to offer citizens a convincing account of how their interests will be protected in the face of this. More profound even than the crisis of political organisation is the exposure of major fissures in the constitution of the British state. Managing the interests of the several nations and regions of the UK has never been easy, which is the reason the British have avoided getting entangled in questions of constitutional identity. The singular failure of this Conservative government is that, for squalid party political reasons, it has acted recklessly and as a consequence has thrust these intractable constitutional questions to the top of the political agenda. As things stand, they appear to lead in one direction only: the disintegration of the British state.

    If there is hope, it lies with the Scots. They are in the vanguard. Many of their aspirations, implicitly shared in Wales and Northern England, can be realised only if home rule is quickly established throughout the UK. This does not mean more devolution from Westminster. It requires something much more radical: the complete reversal of the centuries-old policy of maintaining strong central government and the establishment of a ‘weak’ federal arrangement. The conceit that Westminster is a British parliament must be jettisoned: it is, and always has been, an English parliament to which representatives of the Celtic regions have been invited to attend. With Westminster reverting to its original role as an English parliament, a new federal settlement should be established in which only national aspects of defence, foreign affairs, taxation, pensions and social security are retained, and new federal institutions should be created – in Manchester. This will require both a tremendous leap of constitutional imagination and a strong political will, both of which may be beyond our capacity. But the alternative is hardly worth contemplating.

    Martin Loughlin teaches at the LSE. His books include Foundations of Public Law.”

    Mark Collins

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