In December 1921, Irish revolutionary leaders Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths signed the Anglo-Irish agreement in Downing Street. The treaty provided for the formation of an Irish Free state and which concluded a bitter two year war of independence and centuries of a pursuit of self governance. Upon Collins’s arrival at Downing Street, a British officer remarked “you are seven minutes late Mister Collins” to which Michael Collins replied,“You’ve kept us waiting 700 years.
You can have your seven minutes.” Little did Michael Collins know that in 2017, less than a hundred years after the signing of the treaty, that Britain’s fate would be in the hands of the Irish.
Donald Tusk’s announced in Dublin, alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that “If the UK offer is unacceptable to Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU.” This sent a strong signal to the
British government that they will not be able to bully the Irish government into conceding on a hard border between the Republic and the North. Since the beginning of the divorce talks the Irish government has insisted, and rightly so, that a hard border is something they are not willing to concede on. Border communities North and South would be devastated if a hard border was to be implemented, as well as small businesses, producers and farmers who rely on partners on either side of the border to do business with. Aside from trade, the peace that has formed between governments in the North and the South would be irreversibly destroyed if a border fence was to be erected.
The blatant ignorance of some British politicians towards the Irish question in relation to Brexit has been exposed over the past week, most prominently with Conservative MP and prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg. In an interview with Andrew Marr on BBC, Mogg claimed that the Irish government’s firm stance on the border issue is due to a “no confidence motion in the Deputy Prime Minister and the threat of Sinn Féin.” Mogg could not have been more wrong in this
claim, as Ireland’s Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald resignation had nothing to do with Brexit negotiations.
In a similar show of ignorance, Conservative MP Duncan Smith suggested on Channel Four News last week that Ireland’s hard line stance is due to the “upcoming presidential election.” What Smith failed to realise is that the role of the Irish President is a completely symbolic one and the office holds no power or place in government, it originates from the office of the Governor General during British rule in Ireland. Along with these outlandish claims, last week people on the streets of London were asked to draw where they believed the border between Northern Ireland and Republic lay. One lady remarkably drew it stretching from South Dublin across to Galway. All these cases prove that in England, the view still remains among some that Ireland is nothing more than a small, barren former British colony.
In the early afternoon on the fourth of December it had appeared that the British government had reached an agreement with the EU to not implement a hard border on the Island, however this deal was blocked at the eleventh hour by the DUP, whom the Conservatives rely on to maintain a majority in Westminster. Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster stated that she will not accept any “regulatory divergence” separating Northern Ireland and the UK. In her short statement, Foster made it
clear that Northern Ireland will leave Europe under the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. This proved that for Theresa May, the Brexit negotiations are all about politics. This move by Foster without a doubt undermined May’s leadership as it proved that the 10 DUP MP’s
wield more influence over May than her 315 MPs combined.
This was a major blow to the Irish government, who had hoped that they had secured a deal. The Taoiseach said that he was “Surprised and disappointed” that the British Government failed to fulfill the deal that was agreed earlier that day.
However, it is evident that Ireland hold all the cards in relation to the question of the border and the divorce negotiations as a whole with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker stating that “Ireland’s position is Europe’s Position.” Similarly, in a symbolic show of allegiance to Ireland’s position, Donald Tusk even included the Irish Language in one of his tweets saying “My message from Dublin, Ní neart go cur le chéile.”
However there were some prominent British politician who questioned the special status being offered to Northern Ireland, London Mayor Sadiq Khan being the most prominent. Khan tweeted that there would be “huge ramifications for London” if certain parts of the U.K can remain inside the customs union. Kahn went on to say that if there was a similar deal with London it would protect “tens of thousands of jobs.” While the London Mayor is right in his assertion that thousands of jobs would remain in London as part of the customs union however, Kahn failed to realise that Northern Ireland, unlike London is boarding another Sovereign Country. As well as that if the Mayor’s suggestion was implemented it would effectively see a border erected on the
Nicola Sturgeon also tweeted her opposition to the deal saying that there is no good reason why other parts of the UK cannot stay in the single market. Sturgeon has visited the Irish parliament on numerous occasions and also received an award from Trinity College Dublin. Her efforts to undermine a Brexit deal today may mean her next reception at Leinster House may not be as fawning as the last.
Aside from the devastating impacts a border would have on trade, it could also put the Good Friday agreement at risk. An agreement that has secured peace and cooperation in Northern Ireland for over two decades. While the Irish Government does have the power to veto any
agreement, both the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister For Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have said that it is something they do not expect to do. The debacle between the Conservatives and the DUP has shown a light on May’s incompetence as Prime Minister, which has been growing since the disastrous election earlier this year. It is inconceivable to think that she did not have any contact with her
Government partners, the DUP and it is even more baffling that she allowed them to undermine her in the way they did. Meanwhile the Irish Government is eager to have the Border question dealt with,
sooner rather than later, so they can move on to phase 2 of the talks which involves trade and the Taoiseach expects to have an agreement by December 15th. After that date, we would be entering uncharted waters.
If the events of the last few days have proved anything, it is that Britain’s influence over the divorce deal is quickly diminishing while Ireland’s say grows.
If one thing is for certain it is that the Brexit deal will start and end in Dublin.
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