16 May 2019
Momentum for Irish unity building amidst Britain’s Brexit crisis - Declan Kearney
It is time for the Irish and British governments, and the EU to embrace this reality and begin the process of strategically planning for Irish unity. The onset and destabilising repercussions of Brexit leaves them no other choice. Both governments, and particularly the Irish government, should positively contribute to the new discussion on future Irish reunification, instead of trying to pretend that it can be ignored.
With one week left before the European Union (EU) elections in Britain and the north of Ireland on 23rd May, (EU elections in the southern Irish state will take place the following day), recent opinion polls published provide the latest evidence that the British state and its politics have been pushed into a new, unprecedented phase of realignment.
A few weeks after the Brexit referendum in June 2016, I suggested that Brexit would detonate a constitutional and political crisis at the very core of the British state.
Everything which has intervened since then serves to reinforce this unfolding reality: including;
• The British government's successive failed and bad faith negotiations with the EU;
• The formalising of the British Tory governments’ alliance with the DUP in June 2017, and its destabilising effect upon the political crisis in the north;
• The unparalleled political and parliamentary chaos at Westminster since last year.
All these dynamics have been governed by one consistent set of political objectives – to maintain maximum internal unity within the Tory party, and to try and ensure that it, and British Prime Minister Theresa May remain in power.
However, that game plan is now unravelling and the crisis for the British Tory Party has deepened.
Having seen off the vote of 'no confidence' from within her own party last year, Theresa May’s leadership is now more vulnerable than ever.
It is reported that new internal discussions are happening about a date by which May must resign as Prime Minister.
Only two weeks ago the Tory party lost 1300 seats during the local council elections.
One poll on the EU election campaign has forecast that support for the new Brexit party (led by Nigel Farage) now exceeds the combined vote share of both the British Labour and Tory parties.
Another poll has extrapolated its findings into a future Westminster general election. This puts the Tories into 3rd place, behind Farage's Brexit party, if it entered that election led by Theresa May.
These polls indicate even greater turbulence for the British political system and more fracture and division in British society.
In this context Ireland is destined to be collateral damage from a tsunami of political volatility.
The only certainty emerging from what Brexit has unleashed is more uncertainty and increased political instability.
It was notable that a rally for Welsh national independence took place last Saturday in Cardiff attended by many thousands. It was described by the organisers as the first such march in Welsh history.
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party reacted quickly to the published polls by repeating her renewed calls for a Scottish independence referendum.
In Ireland the Irish unity debate is now part of the political mainstream.
As well as playing negatively right into the ongoing political crisis caused by the denial of citizens’ rights and financial scandals in the north, Brexit has also moved the focus upon Irish reunification centre stage.
British Tory government economic and political policy, supported by the DUP, has turned the north of Ireland into an economic and political backwater during the last ten years.
The existing rights crisis is a direct by-product of these circumstances, to the extent that the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is now directly threatened by both the imposition of Brexit, and the fall out from the British government/DUP pact.
Widespread discontent now exists within the broader nationalist constituency and other sections of progressive opinion.
‘Irelands Future' is an emerging rights-based pressure group which has sought to highlight the scale of political crisis in the north, and also press the Irish government to fulfil its obligations under the GFA. It held a huge convention in Belfast in January this year and then another very significant event in Newry last week.
The mood of the latest event was one of deep impatience; that the denial of citizens’ rights must end in the north; but notably, also evidencing how the popular discourse has moved towards a discussion about the need to design a rights-based framework within a new constitutional Irish national democracy.
The impatience for change among northern nationalists should not be underestimated.
They are increasingly viewing the dynamic for meaningful change and delivery on democratic rights as beyond the northern state.
Brexit has indeed changed everything.
It has swept away all of the old constitutional, political and economic assumptions about the status quo in Ireland.
It has taken a wrecking ball to the traditional make-up of the British state as previously understood. The political centre of gravity in Britain has been unanchored.
Scottish independence is now set to re-emerge as a new dynamic. Previously unseen political change may also now be happening in Wales. The rise of narrow English nationalism has not abated and is responsible for a new destabilising impetus.
The traditional dominance of the British Tory and Labour Parties is likely to be directly challenged on 23rd May.
All of these factors are set to find expression in the forthcoming EU election.
Here in Ireland a momentum for reunification has begun. Irish unity is no longer a question of “if” but “when”. Citizens are questioning those in power as to what shape a new Ireland will take.
So, it is time to begin systematically planning for that outcome.
There has been a significant step change in the political discourse.
That now needs translated into a transition plan: that is, a constitutional, political, economic, and rights based road map for Irish Reunification.
Progressive sections of Irish civic society have already started this work.
It is time for the Irish and British governments, and the EU to embrace this reality and begin the process of strategically planning for Irish unity.
The onset and destabilising repercussions of Brexit leaves them no other choice.
Both governments, and particularly the Irish government, should positively contribute to the new discussion on future Irish reunification, instead of trying to pretend that it can be ignored.