There’s a new and deeply unpleasant narrative developing amongst Brexits. Although to be honest this is scarcely unsurprising since Brexit was always a deeply unpleasant narrative in the first place. However now that the Brexit pigeons have come home to roost and have crapped all over Liam Fox and David Davis, someone has to be blamed. Admittedly Boris Johnson always looks like a bird has just crapped on him, and Ross Thomson looks like something a bird has just crapped, but still. The failure of Brexit is everyone’s fault except those who foisted it upon us all in the first place. It’s not because Brexit always involved wishing for contradictory things simultaneously. It’s not because Brexit always rested up a sense of English exceptionalism and the mistaken belief that the UK merits special treatment. It’s not because the Brexists never had a plan other than wishful thinking. It’s not because the UK’s negotiating strategy has made being woefully unprepared look like German efficiency. It’s all someone else’s fault.
All has been answered in an article this week in Freuzheur Neaulseun’s Spectator magazine. Or to give it its proper title, Irritable Vowel Syndrome Weekly. The piece identifies the villains who are responsible for the failure of Theresa May’s government to negotiate a deal that allows the UK to leave the EU and swan off into a magical land of favourable trade deals and bonfires of restrictive regulations – which is how Tories like to describe your employment and civil rights – while at the same time retaining all the benefits and advantages of EU membership with none of the associated costs and obligations. Naturally, none of it is the fault of the Brexists.
It’s the fault of the civil service. It’s the fault of anti-democratic mandarins. It’s the fault of Europhile politicians. It’s the fault of the Labour party. It’s the fault of corporate interests. It’s the fault of weak leadership and a remainer media. It’s the fault of everyone who isn’t prepared to click the heels of their ruby red white and blue slippers together and say there’s no place like the 1950s. But mostly, it’s the fault of the Irish government. That’s whose fault it is, “We’d have got away with it if it wasn’t for the uppity Irish.” According to the Spectator piece, the Taoiseach has an incentive to make the Brits sweat because he leads a minority government and needs the support of Irish nationalists. Irish nationalism bad, British nationalism good. That whole Irish border issue, it’s just exaggeration in order to do Britain down. Dublin has both danced to the EU’s tune, and wilfully egged on the EU not to give the UK what Britain needs.
I wish British nationalists would make their minds up about Ireland. Either the Dublin government is stirring up the Irish border issue, or it’s a tool of faceless anti-democratic bureaucracy and is doing what it’s told by France and Germany. Which is a bad thing, because really Dublin ought to be doing what it’s told by London. That’s the natural order of British things.
Deep down in the soul of a British nationalist there is the unshakeable belief that every other country on the planet ought to prioritise the interests of Britain over their own. Actually you don’t have to dig down that deep in order to find it. There’s not much in the way of depth in your average Daily Mail editorial. The Little England nationalism that dresses itself up in the Union fleg in order to tell itself that it’s better than anyone else’s nationalism because it’s not nationalist at all, everyone else owes the UK. To their way of thinking, the Irish government has no business protecting the interests of Ireland as a member of the EU. Doing so is just yet another example of Irish antipathy towards the Brits.
Ireland of course has every right to take whatever steps it deems necessary to mitigate the baleful effects of Brexit upon its economy. It’s not Ireland which harbours dreams of being a major player in world affairs. It’s not Ireland which imagines that it possesses the economic heft to strike favourable trade deals with countries around the world. It’s not Ireland which suffers from the delusion that the rest of the world owes us a favour because we won the war you know.
However British nationalists believe that Ireland must sacrifice its national interests on the altar of Brexit in order to make Brexit work for Britain, and Ireland’s refusal to do so is nothing more than ill-will and grudges born out of ancient history. Hence the article in the Spectator claiming that at a time when Britain needs Ireland’s help and goodwill, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has offered neither. Instead, he’s prioritised Ireland’s interests. Imagine that eh? The UK takes a reckless and ill-considered decision based upon lies and a pauchled referendum, a decision that threatens to damage Ireland’s economy and the fragile Peace Process, and Brexists are annoyed that Ireland isn’t enthusiastically helping the UK to destroy itself.
British nationalists react with surprise and scorn because the sovereign government of an independent Irish state prioritises its own interests and does what it can to enlist the support of other EU member states to bolster its position. British nationalists regard this as a form of betrayal. What goes for Ireland, goes for Scotland in spades. British nationalists do not believe that Scotland has any right to any sort of input into the Brexit process at all.
British nationalism is the unshakeable belief that everything on this planet revolves around the needs and concerns of the British state. Or more exactly the Little England part of it. It’s a world view which cannot countenance how Ireland can dare to act in its own interests. It’s a world view which cannot countenance how Scotland can have any interests of its own at all.
Brexit has exposed the weakness of the British state, and the myths which underpin it. Ireland, as a member of the EU, is able to dictate to the British state. It reverses the position of hundreds of years when Ireland was told what to do by Britain, often at the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun. British nationalists cannot get their heads around the fact that the boot is now firmly on the other foot.
And all we can do in Scotland is to look on enviously as Dublin tells London how things are going to be. We continue to be ignored, sidelined and marginalised. We’re being treated the way that Westminster wants to treat Ireland, but can’t. The power of the Dublin government in the Brexit debate shows what you can do as an independent state. Ireland’s superpower is independence. As an independent state Scotland would be amongst those dictating the course of Brexit. As it is, all we have is a David Mundell who hasn’t resigned yet.
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