“Brexit is all coming down to Ireland” and “We are at the very beginning of a national rage”

Commentary from The Guardian after Donald Tusk’s attention seeking comment – A special place in hell? Donald Tusk didn’t go far enough

Martin Kettle: “Brexit is all coming down to Ireland”

Not only were the Brexiters clueless: they didn’t give a stuff about Ireland. But this will come back to haunt the Tories

Donald Tusk should be criticised not for his malice, but his moderation. The European council president triggered a tsunami of confected outrage from leavers today when he observed, with some justice, that there should be a special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without a plan. But he should have said far more. He should have added that, within that special place, there should be an executive suite of sleepless torment for those politicians who promoted Brexit without ever giving a stuff about Ireland.

Once again, Brexit is all coming down to Ireland. This was always going to happen, and rightly so. Time after time in our history, Ireland emerges as an awkward reality check that shames the fantasies of those who think the British are better and that Ireland can be ignored. So there is something both fateful and tragic about the fact Theresa May should have prepared for the final showdown by having to make a rare visit to Ireland.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. For the Brexiters, the leaving of Europe was never about Ireland at all. Brexit was about sovereignty, about greatness, or about not liking too many foreigners living here. It was about throwing off the yoke of Brussels and bringing back blue passports. Ireland barely got a look-in during the debates of 2016, save when John Major and Tony Blair pointed out from lifetimes of experience that Brexit would threaten the Northern Ireland peace agreements.

It would be foolish to assume May has no chance of marshalling a narrow Commons majority behind some version of her EU deal next week. But the odds remain long because she wants to do the right thing, more or less, in Ireland. This has always divided the Tory party down the middle, since the era of Robert Peel. And as Peel found out, it was difficult for a great Tory leader, never mind a limited one.

In 1846, Peel came to the House of Commons to propose the repeal of the corn law tariffs on imported grain. Much of his Tory party, which represented landed interests in the areas where British grain was grown, would have nothing to do with his plan. Peel was a pragmatist: he only became a repealer because events demanded it. Those events were the Irish potato blight and famine. The decision to repeal broke the Tory party for a generation.

Peel could, he admitted to MPs, have concealed the seriousness of the situation in Ireland by “rousing the British lion or adhering to the true blue colour”. But the suffering of four million people in Ireland was too serious, and would only increase. Peel read out a series of shocking eyewitness accounts. “It is absolutely necessary,” said Peel, “before you come to a final decision on this question, that you should understand this Irish case. You must do so.”

It was a speech his critics could have dismissed, if the phrase had been in currency, as “project fear”. It was, in fact, project national interest. Some time next week, May is going to face a similar challenge. Britain in 2019 is not Britain in 1846. The issues faced by Peel and May are very different. But Conservative MPs still face the same question – the need to understand the Irish case.

The Rationalist: “We are at the very beginning of a national rage”. “This is the fault of a political system which for too long we have assumed is functional, when it is transparently not.”

This problem can be resolved in any of the following ways: the DUP (and large parts of the Tory party) accept the backstop and the UK effectively remains in the EU without representation; Ireland leaves the EU and unifies with the UK; Ireland unifies with Northern Ireland; the UK leaves without a deal and therefore has political responsibility for the hard border and the ensuing return to inevitable criminality and violence; or finally, the UK remains in the EU.

None of these outcomes were presented in any form at all as consequences (far less objectives) during the 2016 referendum.

There are no other solutions. Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was the only Brexit that was ever possible without destabilising Ireland’s peace process, which as the phrase insists, is a process which needs nurture, not a fact of life which is irrevocable.

The original ‘’negotiation’ and the present ‘renegotiation’ have been just noise, posturing, theatre and playing for time. It demeans us if we take it seriously and arouses nothing but disgust and contempt if we do not. It has allowed callow politicians like Javid and Hunt to take up ‘positions’ which they consider will advance their own careers and in which they have no conviction. It has nothing whatsoever to do with serious policy that prioritises national and global emergencies.

What Tusk is pointing out here, and what Martin Kettle obviously understands but doesn’t emphasise, is that these were ALWAYS the only solutions. Tusk’s objections (and he has made them colourfully so they will be heard) are that these were not compulsorily stated as part of a post-Brexit plan. People did not know what they were voting about, and whether it was at all achievable. Therefore, oddly enough, Donald Tusk is making a constitutional and procedural point.

Although people like Leadsom and Farage are indeed ‘confecting outrage’, as if they are personally offended by all this, the real critique is of the British constitution, which has allowed a party political infight to become a national crisis. Tusk is therefore looking to the future, in which, after Brexit, when the UK will be diminished (whatever happens next, it already has been) we must have a debate about our constitution and change it, so that decisions of national significance are not ever taken or resolved again without proper debate along established legal pathways.

Pandora’s box has been opened. There are now no answers to this national crisis that will resolve the fury that will be unleashed when a proportion of the population senses ‘betrayal’.

We are at the very beginning of a national rage.

We can personalise this, and blame Cameron, but he did it because he could and because he thought it the best way out of a difficult problem of party management. He is a trivial man, entitled, arrogant and entirely lacking statecraft, but so are many world leaders, not least the American President. The key is to assume that they WILL do damage in pursuit of partisan interest if they are allowed – and then to limit their capacity to do so.

Whoever ‘wins’ the current conflict, we (the body politic) have managed to create a situation where politics for many years hence will be defined by betrayal, bitterness, anger and resentment. Public figures are already positioning themselves to point fingers and locate blame as if the whole thing can be localised to an individual or group and, even worse, that locating blame resolves anything.

This is the fault of a political system which for too long we have assumed is functional, when it is transparently not.

JulesKahnBrown:

Donald Tusk has been calling on the UK government to engage on the Irish border since Article 50 was triggered, but they ignored him till the eleventh hour and have offered nothing but chaotic brinkmanship. As you say, it was always going to come down to this. The EU and Ireland have had a solid plan for it from the word go. Britain had nothing, and the architects of that nothing deserve, at the very least, the venting of Tusk’s understandable frustration.

The UK has far more than Brexit to resolve, and it looks a long way from doing it..

24 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  February 8, 2019

    Blimey what a mess. I did like this bit so much I read it twice:

    We are at the very beginning of a national rage.

    We can personalise this, and blame Cameron, but he did it because he could and because he thought it the best way out of a difficult problem of party management. He is a trivial man, entitled, arrogant and entirely lacking statecraft, but so are many world leaders, not least the American President. The key is to assume that they WILL do damage in pursuit of partisan interest if they are allowed – and then to limit their capacity to do so.

    • Patzcuaro

       /  February 8, 2019

      It would be interesting to know what the polls are saying in United Kingdom, not so united at the moment. The next election will be fascinating.

      • David

         /  February 8, 2019

        Corbyn hates the EU, always has, and he has the same problem the Tories have with his MPs wanting to stay as do his liberal elite urban Guardian reading base. he also needs the votes of the working class who have suffered under mass European migration taking their jobs, taking their housing, clogging up their hospitals and GP surgeries and taking their school places and leaving is what they want.
        As always with these things its the rich and privileged who benefit from these arrangements and the poor who always suffer. Mass migration undermines wages and opportunities which is why big business is in lockstep wanting to stay in the EU and small business mostly want out.

      • Duker

         /  February 8, 2019

        Next election ? Its scheduled for May 2022. Most of this will be forgotten by then- The Guardian writers frothy nonsense will be forgotten by next week

      • High Flying Duck

         /  February 8, 2019

        Allow me:

        • Duker

           /  February 8, 2019

          Online surveys …give views of those online …. surely you knew that
          I tried the local version, who offer spot prizes, which attract cash poor respondants like pensioners and gamblers.
          Except when they did a marijuana ‘survey’ where its was a high end apple laptop, and the numbers responding doubled …why was that?

    • Ray

       /  February 8, 2019

      The poms have really stuffed up and only now are some starting to realise that they are going to lose the “Great” of Great Britain.
      The politicians on both sides have been accomplises to this disaster, so yes it is time for the UK to look to it’s unwritten constitution

      • Patzcuaro

         /  February 8, 2019

        They have already lost the united from United Kingdom, which leaves Kingdom or Britain.

        • Duker

           /  February 8, 2019

          United referred to the union of two Kingdoms , England and Scotland. ( later Ireland was added to make 3)
          The Great just differs it from ‘little’ Brittany in France

          Even the SNP wanted to keep the Queen in an independent Scotland ( and the BBC and NHS). I think too they had the idea of a ‘frictionless’ border with no checkpoints with England, oh and lots of EU subsidies and open immigration with EU which would mean poets and writers , apparently.

    • Duker

       /  February 8, 2019

      The Guardian has been running absurd anti Brexit nonsense for years now.
      The newspaper AND its columnists are the Fox news of the left. It only has a tiny tiny readership in UK, and doesnt have to worry about reader numbers as a foundation pays for most of it

  2. artcroft

     /  February 8, 2019

    What Tusk knows but won’t admit is that tens of millions want out of his ghastly EU project and for many of them troubles on the Irish border are just the price you pay. Like Putin, and for similar reasons, Tusk and his cohorts are determined to curtail democracy. This is the actual crisis in European politics and of course The Guardian is oblivious to any of it. Only the Torys can play the part of villain in their minds.

    • Gezza

       /  February 8, 2019

      That seems to be the nub of it arty. I can’t pretend to understand the complexity of the relationship between the UK & the EU but what must surely have been an arrangement originally conceived of as mutually beneficial has become one in which Britain nearly lost its sovereignty & control of its borders.

      I can’t see any good reason why the UK couldn’t have simply made a practical trade & political agreement with Ireland (& any other EU countries it wanted to ) to continue whatever mutually beneficial arrangements exist between them now by various compacts – except for the bloody-minded intransigence of the EU to punish & sanction for having the temerity, having opted in & found the arrangement unsuitable, to opt out.

      • David

         /  February 8, 2019

        The EU had to make Brexit as impossible as they could lest it encourage a stream of countries to follow suit. They cant allow the UK to have a good exit arrangement otherwise they undermine the reason for their existence.
        The EU fears a super competitive Britain on its doorstep thriving while some of its member states deal forced deflationary austerity with youth unemployment nudging 50%.
        In the form of May they have found someone without the ability to excite Britain about the opportunities once freed from the dead hand of endless EU regulations and rules.

        • Duker

           /  February 8, 2019

          Since around 2000 its calculated that the UK has paid the EU £100 mill in nett payments.
          On top of the trade side theres enormous payouts by EU independent agencies for a whole range of things, the largest is agriculture.
          The EU demands Britain pay a divorce bill that ensures no existing EU member pay more into their fund. Doesnt make sense, if you leave , apart from some residual payouts thats it. The EU isnt a battered spouse who needs payments for years for the childrens sake.

          • Pink David

             /  February 8, 2019

            “£100 mill”

            I suspect you mean billion. It was 13bn in 2017 alone.

  3. David

     /  February 8, 2019

    The EU has used the Irish border for its own ends, there are two simple solutions either there is a Canada style FTA or they do what is done at countless borders including the EU,s outer edges where you have a trust system and you spot check.
    NZ doesnt open every shipping container and have a customs numpty count how many tins of fruit, pairs of knickers or running shoes contained therein. Sure the Irish border has its own history and the EU has used this as a bargaining position but no one can quite point to what massive smuggling problem will occur between two first world countries that are both islands with their own established borders. The troubles are not going to start again because of a customs check and there is also the Irish sea border if necessary.
    An opinion piece from the Guardian is not a reliable source.

    • Duker

       /  February 8, 2019

      before they joined the EU, Scandinavian countries had passport free travel and open borders mainly between Sweden and Norway , who share a very long land border.
      https://www.dailyscandinavian.com/can-brexit-britain-learn-something-sweden-norway-border/

      Finding a solution of course its not in the negotiating strategy of the EU bureaucrats, in fact its their preferred solution, based on past issues, ALWAYS to let the clock run out to midnight …and then some.

    • artcroft

       /  February 8, 2019

      I concur. If a hard border leads to some crazy Irish people going back to killing other crazy Irish people, that is a problem caused by crazy Irish people not Britain.

    • Pink David

       /  February 9, 2019

      There was an open boarder between the UK and Ireland long before the EU. The Common Travel Area was signed in 1923.

  4. Finbaar Rustle

     /  February 8, 2019

    Brexit is a storm in a tea cup a much ado about nothing.
    A little distraction from the dreary grey skies
    and grim boring life most UK people live.
    Thank goodness for football.
    Now if football stopped then there would be trouble.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  February 8, 2019

      I’m sure the remainers are warning of football shortages in the event of Brexit. They are claiming every other conceivable catastrophe as an inevitability.

      • Duker

         /  February 8, 2019

        Ive seen some items in Paknsave out of stock for a week , does it mean its Brexit. or its normal supply chain hiccups.
        maybe national will claim its because of capital gains tax….hahahahaha

  1. “Brexit is all coming down to Ireland” and “We are at the very beginning of a national rage” — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition