Stupid Brexit. And Titanic
Brexit is coming on fast, the language around it finally coming to the core truths: war, Hitler, God, blood, the Blitz, the landed gentry and Dad’s Army. It would be funny if it wasn’t so cuntish, the whole, stupid, unnecessary thing. The same can be said of Ireland’s history, especially the hundreds of years spent under British rule, of which the lowlight was the famine of 1845-49, which saw around a million Irish peasants starve to death. Literally. Britain’s involvement in Ireland’s affairs could be described as a tragic comedy, and the current Brexit conundrum is just the latest chapter.
One hilarious part is how the DUP, a fringe political party from Northern Ireland, is propping up Theresa May’s zombie Conservative government in a real case of the tail wagging the dog. The DUP represents a tired, religious world view, is against equality, and takes the Bible kind of literally. Which is never good. Also, the people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, so why is the DUP refusing to represent the people? The DUP’s control of HMS Brexit is theoretical democracy at its absolute worst and Arlene Foster and Ian Paisley (the junior) are at the helm, steering directly at a great big iceberg.
The European Union also has problems, like its member monarchies and autocracies, the bank bailouts that foisted massive debt on EU citizens, and lack of a relevant Big Idea for Europe. The original EU big idea was that by uniting Europe’s nations states politically and economically, Europe won’t start World War 3, and make it three in a row. That’s on top of Europe’s long, long history of colonialism, slavery and religious genocide. So, not starting WW3 is the goal, and I’m fine with that. But we can easily make the EU better. Let’s call it as it is, and be clear that containing Germany was the main goal. Germany is now a leader in many positive ways, and is not going to start a war, so we need a new big idea.
And I don’t remember ever having seen the names Juncker or Tusk on a ballot paper.
But, Brexit? What does that mean?
It truth, a lot of Brexit is about the creation of Europe and the modern world out of the ashes of World War 2. Sadly, Europe is at a dangerous crossroads, with the wounds caused by Brexit oozing the pus that feeds an army of neo-fascists who want the whole thing to fall down. Could a collapse of the EU lead to the World War 3 that this was all supposed to prevent? Maybe. And that maybe should be enough to send a shiver down every sane person’s spine. In this post, I will do my best to explain the motivations behind the bewildering decisions of the key players, then present my 5 point plan to save Europe.
Brexit by the playas and numbers, it’s like a bad trip
Ireland aka Republic of Ireland – A separate country from the UK (see below). Ireland won independence from the UK in 1921, when a border was drawn to separate Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK to this day. Leader is Leo Varadkar, a young buck with a penchant for a facade of social liberalism, while leading a political party that’s so conservative, it even had a fascist period in the 1930s (Fine Gael still gets queasy at mention of Eoin O’Duffy and the Blueshirts). Capital city is Dublin, famous for hospitality and tech. In process of social evolution after decades in the grip of the Catholic Church. Watch for mass graves of orphanage children, homelessness and opiate addiction, rugby, ‘the craic’, and property crashes.
Northern Ireland – A puppet statelet, typically under direct rule from London and with a small economy, dependent on subsidies from London. Sound as a pound! Capital city, Belfast, is famed for the Titanic. Indeed, Brexit is very much a case of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, as we are all transfixed by its stupidness while the very real, existential threats facing Europe and the world are ignored. Much of Game of Thrones is made in Northern Ireland, and that draws hordes of tourists. Cha-ching. Watch for flag-waving, rally driving, Orangemen, the occasional bomb, and theme parks.
UK aka United Kingdom – Technically, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ugly offspring of the Acts of Union of 1800. Currently includes England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. Population 66 million. Capital, London, is a global cultural beacon while also home to billions belonging to Russian businessmen and petrochemical families. Watch for pro- and anti-Brexit protests outside the House of Commons, ‘Blitz spirit’, Russian spies and oligarchs, Middle Eastern money, and Pret a Manger.
EU – European Union, a block of 28 states, working together to promote liberal values, free trade and human rights. Winston Churchill was among the European leaders who put the foundations of the European Coal and Steel Community together in 1950. It grew and evolved, Ireland and the United Kingdom both joining in 1973. Population 512.6 million, the world’s largest trading bloc. Includes Romania and Hungary. And a lot more. Trust me, a lot. Kind of capital is Brussels in Belgium. Europe is not liked for colonialism, religious crusades and Nazis. On the plus side, European democracy, art, culture, food, wine, beaches, low air fares and liberal outlook mean it is still the centre of the world. But Brexit could tear it apart. European Parliament elections in May 2019 will be worth getting out the vote for, as the rise of far-right autocrats across Europe is feared. Genuinely. Watch for populists, gilets jaunes, Russian spies, Brie, wine, and Islamic State.
Conservative Party aka Tories – The establishment political party that rules the UK, supports monarchy, class and religion. A long and bloody history. Opposition Labour Party under St. Jeremy just started to give direction, proposing that the UK stay in customs union with the EU, which is perfectly reasonable. What if Sinn Fein took their 7 Westminster seats (they’re currently boycotting, of course!) and united the smaller parties behind Labour and against the Tory/DUP coalition?
DUP – Democratic Unionist Party, a pro-UK political party, founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley. Staunchly Unionist, Protestant, pro-monarchist, anti-Catholic, big fans of King William of Orange, the Dutchman who became King of Britain after defeating deposed King James VII at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 (pictured below). The DUP won 292,316 votes in the UK’s 2017 election, or 0.9%. This gave the DUP 10 seats in the House of Commons, the UK Parliament.
Sinn Fein – The pro-united Ireland, ‘Catholic’ political party with representation in both Northern Ireland (7 seats in the House of Commons, which they boycott) and Ireland (21 seats in the Dail, where Leo Varadkar’s ruling conservative party, Fine Gael, has 49 seats). Ably led by Mary Lou McDonald, who has called for a referendum on Irish unity.
Good Friday Agreement – This needs bullet points.
- Signed between the UK and Ireland in 1998.
- Required the removal of British Army and customs checks along the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
- Was designed to make the border fade away.
- The IRA promised to end their campaign of terrorism and disband, which they did.
- The British to allow the unification of Ireland, if a majority in Northern Ireland ever votes for it.
This text is part of the Agreement (get the Tipp-ex!): “Wishing to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union;” All very positive. And it led to the removal of multiple British Army military fortifications along the border.
Brexit – The UK voted on leaving the EU back in 2016. Seems like so long ago now. Northern Ireland, Scotland and London were the only regions to vote stay, the irony! It was the Labour Party’s heartland, the north-east of England that swung it for leave, as illustrated starkly by the map below.
British PM and leader of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, was against Brexit, but since she took over from hapless David Cameron, displays an almost religious zeal in ‘seeing it through’. She triggered the countdown without having an exit plan in place. That’s why Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019 without a deal in place (as of 11pm, 17 Feb, 2019). A no-deal Brexit means chaos, pure and simple. It will mess up the lives of the people of Britain, Ireland and the EU, certainly. But no-deal will send shockwaves around the world, pleasing only people like Putin and Rees-Mogg. (Shudders.)
36% – The share of the Northern Ireland vote won by the DUP in the 2017 election.
0.9% – The share of the United Kingdom vote won by the DUP in the 2017 election.
51.9% – The share of the total UK vote to leave the EU, for Brexit.
55.8% – The share of the Northern Ireland vote to remain in the EU, against Brexit. The DUP campaigned for Brexit. Ireland was not involved in the Brexit vote.
Backstop – What is this backstop of which you speak? This is not the backstop you’re looking for. It’s behind that hedge over there. In this reality, the backstop is an insurance policy. If the UK doesn’t manage to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU that doesn’t require border customs checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, then Northern Ireland stays in the EU Customs Union. The DUP fears that this will mean a de facto united Ireland. The Conservatives couldn’t care less, and if the DUP didn’t hold the balance of power in Westminster, the backstop would have been quietly adopted. Teresa May’s decision to hold an election in 2017 was a serious miscalculation.
My 5 point plan to save Europe
- Get Sinn Fein to dump abstentionism, take their 7 Westminster seats, then vote with Labour and the other smaller parties (except the DUP, lol) to get rid of Teresa May’s zombie Conservative government, then go for a soft brexit with the UK remaining part of the European Customs Union. A people’s vote on the deal on offer might be useful. Let’s face it, things change, people change their opinions, and many who voted for Brexit back in 2016 are now dead.
- Turn the entire island of Ireland into a free trade zone, a halfway house between the UK, US and EU.
- Continue to improve Ireland, with real progress on housing, social equality and a future economy that doesn’t rely on US tech companies avoiding tax elsewhere. Fine Gael, the current ruling party, represents farmers, landlords and conservatism, so is unlikely to be able to achieve significant economic development. In time, we should aim for a vote on unification, but make that vote open to all who live on this island.
- Turn the governance of the EU upside down, with more participative decision-making by the entire EU electorate and less control by the unelected commissioners and Eurocrats. The EU must get tough on fascists, and stop treating taxpayers with disgust, especially in countries like Ireland and Greece. The fat cats ruined it for everyone, yet they got away with everything.
- What does Europe stand for? Liberalism? Equality? Social justice? I’m not sure anymore. Are you? Let’s get our shit together and decide, actually take on these enormous decisions for ourselves. The politicians have failed us, all of them. There must be a better EU, with a new Big Idea. There has to be, or we are all fucked.
Update, December 2019
Boris Johnson took over as leader of the British Conservative Party earlier this year and won a large majority in Britain’s December 2019 General Election. He had managed to get the backstop removed from the withdrawal agreement, with the consent of the EU and Ireland. What this means is that Northern Ireland will not be part of the EU Customs Union, but there will, in effect, be an invisible customs border down the Irish Sea, making Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the Republic of Ireland in customs and trade. There may yet be a hard border on the island of Ireland, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Johnson has pledged that Britain will leave the European Union by January 31, 2020, with a full trade deal in place by the end of 2020.
Backstory: A brief history of Ireland
As Brexit Britain brazenly becomes a Shakespearean tragedy, the question of what to do about the border in Ireland has been the dealbreaker. This is funny, ironic and sad, all at the same time. To understand why, a quick review of the history of Ireland is in order. (Takes deep breath.)
In a nutshell, Ireland’s history is: warring tribes, St Patrick, warring tribes, Vikings, warring tribes, Normans, warring tribes, King Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, King William of Orange, Easter 1916, Independence, European Union, warring tribes, the EU, an end to tribal warfare, the decline of the Catholic Church, and social advancement…
No real recorded history of Dublin until the Vikings sailed up the River Liffey in the 9th century. Ireland at that time was populated by a lot of Celtic tribes constantly at war with each other, St Patrick having converted some of the pagans to Christianity in the second half of the 5th century. Then the Vikings came over from Denmark, said ‘Hej’ and that was that. They liked Dublin because it was a good spot for catching salmon and handy for grabbing and exporting slaves. They made their bases at rivermouths across Ireland, including at Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Galway – all Ireland’s current cities, basically.
Dublin’s name in Irish is Dubhlinn, meaning ‘black pool’, which may derive from a deep river pool where salmon gathered. The original Viking settlement is at a place called Wood Quay, just upriver (on the south bank) from the quaint Ha’penny Bridge, past U2’s Clarence Hotel and now the location for the bunker-like offices of Dublin City Council (the original Viking origins of Dublin were dug up and skipped to make way for these horrible offices). The Vikings did annoy the locals, (something to do with the slave trade, perhaps) so a warrior called Brian Boru, from Killaloe, Co Clare, became the first to unite the Irish tribes against a common enemy. Boru’s army defeated the Vikings in the Battle of Clontarf on Dublin’s north city coastline in 1014. But Boru was killed in the aftermath of the battle. Ouch.
The Norman invasion began in 1169, commanded by Henry II. The Pope at the time gave Henry dominion over the “barbarous nation” of Ireland so that its “filthy practices” may be abolished, its Church brought into line, and that the Irish pay their tax to Rome. The Normans ruled the roost, mixing with the locals,until King Henry VIII decided to reconquer Ireland in 1566. The mainly Catholic Irish peasantry were never treated well and there was the occasional rebellion and famine, with Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, bringing about Catholic emancipation in 1829. Dublin’s main street, and the bridge leading from it to the southside, is named after O’Connell, as is the main street of virtually every town in Ireland. The Great Irish Famine of 1845-49 was a major event, with over a million starving to death. Dublin was largely insulated from the Famine, as the seat of British power, the centre of a defended coastal strip called The Pale, its citadel Dublin Castle. The Pale gave us the expression ‘Beyond the Pale’, meaning something weird and bizarre. Dubliners call people from outside the city ‘culchies’ or ‘boggers’ while country people call Dubliners ‘Jackeens’ because they loved to fly the ‘Union Jack’ flag in deference to the British rulers. So there you have it.
But the drive for independence continued, with the Easter Rising, a mainly Dublin event, beginning on 24 April, 1916. Led by Padraig Pearse and the Irish Volunteers, it lasted for six days with much of the action taking place around the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street. The rebellion was crushed and its leaders executed in Kilmainham Gaol. This outraged the Irish and a War of Independence was launched in 1919. Led by Michael Collins, it was intelligence-led, used innovative guerrilla tactics, and brought about independence in 1921. But Ireland was partitioned, Ulster remaining part of the United Kingdom, and this caused a brutal Civil War, which ended in 1922. A bitter taste remains and Ireland’s political landscape is still described as ‘Civil War politics’. Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins is an excellent evocation of the period.
Pearse and Collins are revered as heroes (de Valera less so), with many streets and buildings around Dublin named after them. But we owe Britain a great deal, including our love of the language, the finest architecture in Dublin, a key emigration destination and a strong bond between the peoples.
Dublin is capital of a broken nation, an utterly bankrupt economy, and a people with little faith in the inbred political class that caused the spectacular collapse, which began in 2008. There is a general sense of malaise and despondency and a visible urban decay in vacant retail units, derelict office blocks and so-called ghost housing estates. There has also been a noticeable increase in beggars, vagrants and homeless people on the city streets, exactly while the world’s tech companies flock to the city’s docklands to locate their European (tax-avoiding) HQs. Dublin people remain among the friendliest and best-mannered on Earth and are very welcoming.
Still less than a hundred years old, Ireland today is all about the contrasts, widespread poverty around bubbles of a shiny future, positive social change but the Catholic Church still in control of most schools and hospitals, and a populace enslaved by European bank bailout debt but still viewing the EU as the best hope for a better future. I hope we make it. We deserve to.
Northern Ireland 2017 election results: https://www.bbc.com/news/election/2017/results/northern_ireland
UK 2017 election results: https://www.bbc.com/news/election/2017/results
UK Brexit vote: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36616028
European Parliament election 2019 (Steady on, Ted!): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_European_Parliament_election
Good Friday Agreement text: http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/today/good_friday/full_text.html
Brief history of Ireland first published in ‘Easter Rising 1916 Remembered – Ireland’s Crazy History and Broken Present’ by Gary J Byrnes, 2016: https://garyjbyrnes.blogspot.com/2016/03/easter-rising-1916-remembered-irelands.html
Map of Europe: By NuclearVacuum – File:Europe-EU.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8096180
Battle of the Boyne By Jan Wyck – http://www.battleoftheboyne.ie/TheBattleoftheBoyne/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34909021
Find Gary’s stories at Smashwords in all ebook formats: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/garyjbyrnes
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