The proposals, already rejected last year, are only the latest in a long line of failings in Britain’s negotiations with the island of Irelandby Katy Hayward / May 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Hopefully we won’t, in this part of the world, be the sacrificial lamb that will be traded away as part of a deal between the European Union and the UK at the end of the day. There is that risk. And I understand the fine words that people have for us—you know, ‘we’ll protect the open border’ and all the rest of it. But you wait until the final outcome until you know what the real story is.”
As with the referendum itself, the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is characterised by indecision and conflict within the Conservative Party. The whole country, the whole continent indeed, has to wait on hold whilst internecine struggles of personality and ambition play themselves out.
But there is an anguish in the waiting and a sharpness to the uncertainty that is distinct in the border region in Ireland. As one participant explained during the focus group on the Fermanagh/Donegal border, public promises mean little when they can be subject to tweaking, twisting and even outright trashing when they are put back on the British cabinet table.
This is a region that is used to being peripheral to decision making in the halls of Westminster, Stormont, and Leinster House. More particularly, it is used to bearing the brunt of spats between Dublin and London. Across centuries, indeed, European quarrels have left an imprint on Ulster. This is most apparent in the annual commemorations in which the colours of the union flag are intermingled with the Orange of the Dutch king of the seventeenth century Williamite wars.
Not yet a century ago, the most brutal demonstration of Britain and Ireland’s inability to peacefully manage their entanglements was the act of partition—a slash of state sovereignty across farmers’ fields, along narrow rivers, and between neighbours. This is a place where the straightforward nation-state model really did not fit—how could it, after such a complex history of mixing and bonding, exploitation and division?
At the very end of the second millennium, a way to manage this complexity was found. It is no coincidence that this came as both the UK and Ireland were part of the EU—where integration between states was a deliberate act to increase prosperity and decrease propensity for war. The 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement was a…