Apparently Brexit Means Changing The Irish Question AGAIN
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Earlier by John Derbyshire: “The Star Of The County Down”—Ulster Protestants And Irish Catholics Both Suddenly Confronted With Globalism

The old British joke about Ireland used to be that as soon as some British government thought they had found an answer to the Irish Question, Ireland changed the question.

It's looking a bit like that over there right now. The issue here is the Northern Ireland Protocol.

What's that? OK, remember Brexit? January 1st last year the UK finally, formally, decisively left the European Union, the EU … except for some fiddly issues over import controls.

Before Brexit both nations of the British Isles—both the UK and the Republic of Ireland—were members of the EU, with freedom of movement for goods and people across the border. What border? Well, the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so there is a land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

After Brexit the situation is different. The UK is now out of the EU, but the Republic of Ireland stayed in it. So that border is now a border between the UK—an independent nation—and the EU.

No problem. There must be lots of land borders between the EU and non-EU nations, mustn't there? What about the Balkans, where half the countries are in the EU and half aren't? What about those nations we've been hearing about that border Ukraine: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia?

So yes, the Brits could have just put up a border fence with customs posts and so on. Problem is, Northern Ireland has a big sub-population of Irish Republicans, who don't like Northern Ireland being in the UK. They so much don't like it, their activist wing spent the last third of the 20th century blowing things up and killing people about it.

The Brits worked out a peace agreement in 1998 giving both factions in the North—the Republicans who want a united Ireland and the Unionists who want to stay in the UK—something of what they wanted. It was a balancing act, though, and still is. Both the Brits and the EU think that erecting a fence along the border might get the Troubles going again, so they stitched up a compromise.

Northern Ireland stays in the UK, but follows EU standards for food and other goods. That means Northern stuff can pass freely into the Irish Republic, and vice versa. Customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland are done at Northern Ireland's ports of entry, as if it were an EU member…which it isn't: it's part of the UK.

Got it? That's the Protocol.

It isn't working, of course. The Unionists hate it because it treats them as a foreign country. Republicans like it because it makes the border with the Irish Republic inconsequential. Business people mostly hate it because it loads them up with bureaucracy. The Brits and the Unionists want to downsize it, and the EU is mad as hell.

Our own congresscritters are stirring the pot in hopes of getting votes from Irish-Americans. Congresscritter Richard Neal of, yes, Massachusetts was over there the other day with a nine-strong delegation, telling the Brits to leave the Protocol alone, or else. Aren't there any issues back here in the States you should be legislating on, Congressman?

The main Unionist political party in Northern Ireland, the DUP, dislike the Protocol so much, they forced an election over it early this month.

Election to what? Sorry, I have to explain that. Part of the 1998 deal was for Northern Ireland to have its own wee legislature—called the Assembly—and Executive, answering to the legislature. It's all bogus, of course: Britain pays all the bills for the North, so the legislature doesn't have anything to legislate about. The idea is just to give a "voice" to the different factions.

Well, the Chief Executive, a DUP guy, resigned at protest over the Protocol, forcing an election. The result was a win for Republicans: 36 seats against Unionists' 35, and 17 seats going to a can't-we-all-get-along centrist party.

That would make the legislature ineffective, if it had ever been meant to be effective, which fortunately it wasn't. What scared Britain and the Unionists, though, was that those 36 seats for Republicans included 27 for the Sinn Féin party, making them the biggest single party in the Assembly.

That came on top of Sinn Féin darn near winning the Republic of Ireland's general election two years ago. They got 37 seats in Ireland's 160-seat parliament, just one seat fewer than the winning party's 38.

What's scary about that? Well, Sinn Féin is the most Republican of Ireland's parties, north and south. It supported and financed Republican terrorism through those decades of trouble. The party has a lot of blood on its hands—not just British and Unionist blood, either. Policemen in the Republic, and Irish soldiers too, were killed by Republican terrorists for whom Sinn Féin served as a respectable-looking front.

There's been a lot of speculation about how things would develop if Sinn Féin were to further advance to control both the Irish parliament and Northern Ireland's Assembly. My favorite in that line was a May 11th op-ed at the website of RTE, Ireland's main broadcaster. The writer argued that one possible outcome would be a British reclamation of all Ireland[ 'A British reclamation of Ireland down the line? Unthinkable?, by Cathal McCall, May 11, 2022].

I seriously doubt anyone in Britain wants that. The last time I was living in Britain, 1978-85, the universal opinion among Brits was that Northern Ireland should be given independence and left to sort out its issues with the Republic as best it could.

British weariness of Ireland and its everlasting squabbles goes back way further than that. Here was Winston Churchill in 1922, in the aftermath of World War One:

As the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.
[Speech on the Ireland Situation, February 16, 1922]

If Britain still had statesmen of Churchill's caliber, they'd figure a way to turn this wrangling over the Protocol into a second Brexit: a British exit from Ireland, once and for all. Brits would be cheering from Land's End to John o' Groats.

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