Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union, will drag the rest of the UK kicking and screaming with it. A couple of years away, it is already having effects far and wide, from European footballers on British teams eschewing their salaries in pound sterling for Euros, to Republic of Ireland real estate developers licking their chops at the prospect of European businesses fleeing London for Dublin.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin, the Irish republican party throughout Ireland (the Republic of and Northern), is attempting to secure “special status” for Northern Ireland within the EU, asserting that it should be exempted from paying for the damage that will be caused by Brexit. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and was joined by the opposition party to Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party, a party that works to keep Northern Ireland in the UK, not in a reunited Ireland. The UUP leader describes the call for special status as an attempt to achieve a reunited Ireland by the “back door.” The leaders of Sinn Féin may smile when they think of that back door.
In April, Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the UK, called for a snap election to take place this Thursday, June 8th. The purpose of the election is to consolidate the power of her party, the Conservative or Tory Party, and undoubtedly to send a message that Brexit will go ahead, via the mechanism in Article 50, no matter what the people of Northern Ireland or Scotland, which also voted to remain in the EU, want. The PM had promised the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, that no such election would take place, but is it possible that Ms. Sturgeon’s letter to Theresa May at the end of March gave birth to the hastily called election? In her politely provocative letter the Scottish First Minister announced her intention to bring another independence referendum forward to the Scottish Parliament (the independence referendum of 2014 brought out 85% of Scottish voters and lost, 55.3% to 44.7% independence seekers).
Theresa May has nothing but problems, having been the PM during the three ghastly terror attacks of the last three months. She has responded by casting blame liberally, forgetting that before her election, she was the Home Secretary for six years under former PM David Cameron. The Home Secretary is in charge of counterterrorism. The Guardian newspaper reports that Theresa May reduced police forces by 21,500 officers, both as Home Secretary and PM, and the counter-terrorism budget, starting in 2010. Her opposition, the Labour Party, is naturally making a meal of the numbers, despite May’s defensive countercharges. However, the voters in London and the rest of the UK are feeling the shock of the terror attacks, and that may not be a good thing for the Conservatives or Theresa May on June 8th.
Brexit also brings up the question of borders in Ireland. A tourism lobby group in Northern Ireland, Hospitality Ulster, contends that any return to a border, hard or soft, between Northern Ireland and the Republic could hurt the North’s economy. More than half of external visitors to Northern Ireland come through Dublin first. After Brexit, will they need a visa? Will they bother to come at all, to wait at the border crossing, or choose to remain in the Republic? Tourists pay a 20% tax on purchases in Northern Ireland, and 9% in the Republic; so, no, they may not bother to go north.
More importantly, a noticeable border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would bring back memories of the bad old days of The Troubles in the 1970s, a time everyone would like to forget. These days the train from Dublin to Belfast slips across the border, its passengers ignorant of the fact until they see red post boxes instead of green ones, Union Jacks instead of the Irish Tricolour. When the Dublin train nears the station in Belfast, it passes a Guinness factory, and all is well: the two are the one Ireland, after all.
Will Brexit reunite Ireland? It’s a lovely thought; one Sinn Féin will try to make reality. The companion question is: will Brexit blow the United Kingdom apart? Pay attention to the British election results on Thursday: the answers will begin to emerge with those results.