It started off this morning with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Simon Coveney, calling for the EU to move the border between Ireland and Britain into the Irish Sea. Now this afternoon, following on from the reaction by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who said that the idea was “unacceptable”, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reiterated that the Irish government does not want any sort of economic border on the island of Ireland after Brexit. He went on to say that Dublin was not going to design a border for the Brexiteers. “So let them forward their proposals as to how they think a border should operate and we’ll ask them if they really think this is such a good idea”, he said.
Taoiseach Varadkar warned that “if they go down that route”, the implications for the British economy would be severe. And while Mr Varadkar was implying that he hoped that there wouldn’t be an angry reaction in relation this position by the Irish government, he went on to state that “it is the British and the Brexiteers who are leaving, so if anyone should be angry it’s us, quite frankly.
“But we are not going to get angry. We are going to try and find solutions or at least minimise the damage to relations between Britain and Ireland, to the peace process and to trading links,” he said.
In a further statement today, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the government’s position on the issue of the border in Brexit negotiations is a political not a technical matter. The department statement also said that avoiding a hard border after Brexit will require “flexible and imaginative solutions”.
It seems now that following on from the departure of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, the new Irish cabinet is not looking to put its faith in its neighbour when it comes to working out a solution to the Irish question in Brexit. A year ago Mr Kenny spoke of advancements in technology which would allow a frictionless border, but it seems that the current leadership is not seeing this as a workable option.
And indeed, judging by the reaction here in Ireland, it is clear that the government’s position is largely supported by the Irish public who are tired of the uncertainty that the last year has brought. Ireland has today managed to return to the high employment figures of the pre-2008 recession and overall, the recovery is a moderate success with a potential to continue to improve. But Brexit – a decision which is causing both economic and social disruption to all of Ireland, is a like a huge cloud hanging over the island and this uncertainty has finally forced the people and their government to take a long overdue stance against it. Already local communities along both sides of the border are taking action and campaigning against the absurdity of a closed border on the island of Ireland. A local organisation, Border Communities Against Brexit, is forming a solid resistance base which is making a considerable impact, and looks like the way to go when compared to the fractured remain campaign on the British mainland.
What Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar have done today is to send out a message to the EU and in particular, Britain, that the Irish will not stand idly by and allow a deal to be made without their input. What is now required is a cross party agreement on this issue in the Irish Parliament. Should this happen, it will reinforce our position and indicate that we will not go quietly into night and that our future in many ways is far more important in Europe than Britain’s. The Irish government should not be left standing alone on this issue and regardless of the DUP’s stance on this matter (they obviously objected to the Irish statement), Dublin should also be looking to the remaining political parties in the North and bring them into a larger opposition front against any border establishment.
Only then can we capitalise on the overall remain majority in the referendum vote in Northern Ireland and bully the British government into realising the absurdity of a closed border. I have no doubt that the whole concept of Brexit is totally unappealing to the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland. And as the weeks go by, the complications now become reality and the pressure is on the Conservatives to come up with what seems like an impossible solution to a unsolvable question. That question is how can you maintain the progress that the Good Friday Agreement brought while sealing off one quarter of the island. Its my belief that you can’t, and with over twenty years of cooperation amongst all parties in Ireland, simply cutting those ties in the name of problems that are not major issues in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland is both absurd and insulting.
And this is where the Irish government has stepped in. They fully realise that on the long list of Brexit issues in Tory land, the Republic of Ireland is well down, and it is most probable that the Northern Ireland question is also not exactly in their top thoughts. By realising this, Ireland has firmly nailed its colours to the mast and it appears that they are blue and gold.
And as ludicrous as it seems, the British government is now going to have to deal with yet another anti-Brexit lobby in the form of an energised Irish government, hopefully supported by the political system both north and south of the island, and more importantly by the people of Ireland who are just plain sick of this ill thought and badly judged catastrophe.