Brexit & Ireland, and the two elephants in the room

elephants photo
Photo by Turkinator
I’ve just finished reading Tony Connelly’s “Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response”. It’s a good book, even though some bits are highly specific to Ireland, and it’s definitely worth reading.

However, the author almost completely ignored two elephants in the room by assuming the constitutional order won’t change: Scottish independence and Irish reunification.

The book hardly mentions Scotland at all, and Scottish independence is completely absent. Perhaps he simply assumes that it won’t happen soon enough to be relevant, but if it does happen within the next couple of years, the consequences could be extremely important for Ireland, so one would have thought it would have warranted a brief mention at least. I think I also expected an Irish observer to distinguish between the English and Scottish perspectives, rather than treating Britain almost as a uniform entity. But perhaps that’s appropriate – in spite of Scotland’s desire to Remain, it’s not clear that there will be another independence referendum in time to allow it to happen, and Westminster don’t seem to have any desire to grant Scotland a different kind of Brexit from England; so from a foreign perspective Scotland might as well be ignored. This feels very harsh when you’re a pro-indy remainer in Scotland, but sometimes it’s useful to see yourself as others see you, as Burns liked to remind us.

I find it even more surprising that the prospect of Irish reunification gets ignored. It is hard to imagine that it can happen before Brexit, but you never know. After all, the Good Friday Agreement says this about a border poll:

1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.
2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power
under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to
be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
3. The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1
earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this
Schedule.

Interestingly, it does not say anything about a majority in the Assembly or anything like that – the way I’m reading it, if a string of opinion polls express a clear majority for reunification, the Northern Irish Secretary will have to organise a referendum, and that might happen sooner rather than later if many people start worrying that their jobs will get lost due to a hard border cutting across the island of Ireland. Of course people had assumed that a border poll would only happen when the Catholic community had overtaken the Protestant one numerically, but there’s nothing preventing Brexit from being the event that creates a majority in favour of reunification.

I guess he didn’t want to speculate too much about hypothetical events, but so many of the negative consequences of Brexit could be avoided if Ireland reunified, so I would certainly have found it useful if he had been more open about it as a possible solution.

As far as I know, Tony Connelly has been based in Brussels for a number of years, so I cannot help wondering whether his approach to these two issues reflects the general feeling on the continent, or whether it reflects the current thinking in Ireland.

2 thoughts on “Brexit & Ireland, and the two elephants in the room”

  1. I do find it interesting that Arlene Fosters constituency voted strongly to remain.

    I wonder how many of those folk (and folk in other constituencies) will be reassessing who they vote for in Stormont in view of the DUP determination to stick with Westminster and the Union regardless of the economic impact on the province.

    1. Yes, that’s a good point. How will they prioritise (1) their hatred of the EU, (2) their opposition to Irish reunification, and (3) their loyalty to Westminster and the Tories there?

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