When I discovered that Boris Johnson’s proposals for a new exit deal from the European Union would require the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, I thought to myself – welcome to my world!
The thought of the Unionist veto applying not only to this little corner of Ireland but also to the whole UK and even to the rest of Europe – wielded by that very incarnation of reasoned moderation and altruistic benevolence – the DUP!
What poetic justice that all the rational and sensible advocates of just such an arrangement in my miniature polity were now invited to subject themselves to the same enlightened principle of majority rule, while acknowledging the limitless legitimacy of Unionism and its glorious traditions. The rules of trade between the entire UK and the EU Single Market would be exposed to the approval of the DUP; and just in case they had all been on a fully paid up holiday – paid for by some generous dictator – they could change their minds every four years.
Every four years the rest of Europe would wait with baited breath while the DUP decided whether it wished to continue “regulatory alignment” with the Single Market, knowing that the EU had agreed with the British Government proposal for “a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future.” The rest of the world would also hold its breath to see if, given EU unhindered access to the UK market and UK unhindered access to the EU Single Market, they might not also employ world trade rules to demand similar unimpeded entry.
I pictured horrified faces in the offices of State across Europe and in the corridors of the Brussels bureaucracy. But surely they would continue to show their solidarity with the Irish Government and the Irish member State? And surely since this state has considered such a mechanism so good that the whole EU-UK exit deal had to revolve around protection of the Good Friday Agreement, which made unionist consent a bedrock principle of the one holy and indivisible peace process, this couldn’t be such a bad idea?
The excellence of such arrangements is so obvious – who could demur to such an obvious meretricious solution? So, who then could dispute the reaction of the DUP to criticism of this arrangement from the Irish Government?
Of course, it would have to be admitted that DUP denunciation of Irish Government leaders seemed a teeny bit hypocritical, when it stated that Simon Coveney was “obstructionist and intransigent” and that he exhibited “a majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism.” Similarly, it might seem slightly awry for the DUP to say that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were “ramping up the rhetoric” and that the former would “go down in history as the Taoiseach who restored a hard border.”
I have to admit I wasn’t sure if this last accusation was actually a complaint, or whether it was only in the sense of saying – that’s our job. In any case, with such comments, and Boris Johnson promising to be a model of “gelatinous emollience”, and Jeremy Corbyn saying that “no Labour MP could support such a reckless deal”, I thought the whole world had turned on its axis in the wrong direction. It was as if there was a new eleventh plague, in addition to frogs going “up on you and your people and all your officials” threatened in Exodus, one that would prove the truth of the DUP’s almost biblical politics.
Of course Marxists want the world turned upside down and now it seemed as if it was, maybe just not the way we might have wanted, although some who describe themselves as Marxists, but who support Brexit, seem to believe that turning things upside down is not only necessary but also sufficient – no matter how the fan has spread the shit, as long as it has hit it.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the deal proposed by Boris Johnson is the sort of dog’s dinner that any sensible dog would turn down. The EU saying it is “unconvinced” is like a lottery winner saying he’s not persuaded of suicide just yet. Saying it “did not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop” is true, in the sense that the remaining ‘gap’ is similar to me entering the marathon at the Olympics to be informed that Woody Allen was correct when he said that “80 percent of success is showing up.”
In other words, the proposed protocol cannot be considered as a serious candidate for a deal acceptable to the EU, and Johnson knows it. This is then believed to be evidence of his desire for a no deal, but given the safety net provided by the parliamentary opposition through the Benn Act requiring him to ask for an extension, this is not the case.
Johnson has been able to put together a proposal that commentators knowingly note is not a proposed deal with the EU but with the ultra-Tories, Brexit Party and DUP; a deal that supports his Brexit credentials in the upcoming general election.
It also has enough scope, given Johnson’s idea of consistency, for further amendment after any return to Government following an election to allow him to strike a deal with the EU. The detail, so far unpublished, might provide clues to this possible direction of travel.
Removing the DUP veto with some nebulous consultation with the Irish natives in the North will suffice to replace the ridiculous notion that a zombie assembly will dictate the integrity of the EU’s Single Market; and strengthening the Irish Sea checks would be necessary to allow the North to be in a separate customs territory with the EU.
Meanwhile the left in Ireland continues with business as usual, rolling out the same solutions that they have been advocating for decades but without the least prospect of them being applied to meet the problems that are arising right now.
So, the Socialist Party recognises that “a no-deal Brexit will bring enormous hardship for working-class people. Reports, including from the government, have indicated that anywhere from 40 -100,000 job losses can be expected in the south of Ireland.” But all it can do is call upon the trade union movement to carry out an ‘action plan’ for which it has shown not the slightest sign of planning to act. How could this be considered a real alternative to job losses, as opposed to the usual propaganda?
The Party calls for nationalisation and a break with the system without it registering that nationalisation is not a break with the system and is not socialist. The Party has just undergone another split but with neither side mentioning this approaching “enormous hardship” in their statements. If they can’t take their own warnings seriously . . .
People before Profit criticises Unionists for wanting a hard border but not for Unionist support for what is giving rise to this hard border. Instead it blames the EU and the Irish Government – “both the EU and the Irish government will claim that they are not to blame for imposing this border – the responsibility lies with Britain. But once they erect border posts on the Southern side, this will give the British Tories the excuse to follow suit. It will not matter then who started it – we will have to live with a strengthened form of partition.”
Who, or rather what, started it was of course Brexit. People before Profit state that the DUP’s Sammy “Wilson and his Tory friend Johnson should be told that there will be mass peaceful civil disobedience to take down many of the border posts they erect.”
But how would this prevent the thousands of redundancies due to the import of cheaper products originating outside the EU that might come in through the North; or the cheaper imports to Britain that Irish producers cannot compete with; or the decline in demand from the UK as its economy declines? How would taking down customs posts avoid the need for certification of regulatory and customs checks that business will require to ensure that final sale to consumers or wholesalers demonstrates compliance with safety and other regulatory requirements? How will turfing these posts avoid all the costs that will put small business out of business? Protest politics, to which this left is in thrall, has no answer to how to actually run a society as opposed to just allowing people to express how unjust it is.
When this politics does actually look to an alternative it calls for the politicians and state it declares to be the problem to provide the solution, through ‘pressure’ and, of course, nationalisation. One might have thought that the role of nationalisation in saddling the Irish people with the gambling debts of the banks would have made them think twice before repeatedly trotting out nationalisation as a working class solution. But apparently not.
It is obvious to everyone but this left that the solution to the problems created by Brexit is not to have Brexit at all. But, of course, these people supported Brexit and are responsible for it. That they don’t like its results, that they say it isn’t what they voted for (and you don’t hear them say this very often anyway), is neither here nor there. Who cares what was going through their heads when they voted for Brexit? What they thought they were voting for was not what was on offer, but they still voted for it, and what’s more, their claims not to support it is belied by their continued support for it!
The objective logic of the reactionary character of Brexit imposes itself on both its left and right supporters through the fantasy character of their promises and their professed plans to make it work. Johnson is by all accounts not convinced Brexit is a good idea but he needs it, at least for now, to achieve his personal ambition through satisfying the dying fantasies of the Tory faithful. So we have the dog’s dinner of a Protocol, which the EU refuses to take seriously.
The DUP supported Brexit because it chimed with all their backward instincts while cleaving to the imagined power of a once-mighty imperial Britain they regard as their only bulwark to their reactionary position in Ireland. But they also understand that Brexit has weakened the appeal of Unionism in the North and have shifted to accepting some regulatory checks down the Irish sea.
The non-solutions to Brexit put forward by the Brexit supporting left demonstrates that they too have no way for this support to deliver on their declared objectives. If they took their politics the least bit seriously, they would be praying that Jeremy Corbyn deliver his ‘good’ Brexit.
This however would demonstrate their own impotence and dependence on the reformist politics their existence is meant to be a standing repudiation of. It would also tie them to the fortunes of a failing project that is failing precisely because of its support for Brexit. Were Corbyn’s proposed deal to be achieved it would be on the basis of an agreement with the EU devil and all its creations – the Single Market and Customs Union. It would be Brexit in name only and this is no more what this left claims it wants than do the ranks of the Tory and Farage parties.
Brexit cannot deliver what its supporters claim. How appropriate then that it should seem to founder on that other great failure – the Good Friday Agreement. But illusions die hard. To paraphrase something meant to have been said by Keynes, some people can remain irrational longer than their illusion can remain in existence.