And why not a united Ireland?

Submitted by AWL on 17 October, 2018 - 9:03 Author: Editorial

The Border in Ireland has never made democratic sense. It was drawn to maximise the "little Orange empire" for the Protestant-Unionists of the north east in the 1921 partition of Ireland. It has been a running sore for almost a century.

To this day, along almost all its length, the majority of the population on the Northern side of the Border is "Catholic", Irish-Irish rather than British-Irish in its identity. The Border makes no political or human sense now. For a long time there have been no border checks.

Over 30,000 people cross the border each day to travel to work, and tens of thousands more to shop, to deliver or collect supplies for work, to visit friends, etc. Thanks more to the piecemeal, economic-first integration worked by the European Union than to any merits of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, since about 2005 what was a string of military checkpoints has become an "almost invisible" frontier.

Some of the clauses of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), written when negotiators on all sides assumed that Britain and the Republic of Ireland were in the EU permanently, contain guarantees relying on EU jurisdiction. To re-erect the border would be a big step backwards, rekindling communal conflict, putting pressure on the many vulnerable points in the bureaucratic contraptions of Northern Ireland politics under the GFA. The people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant alike, don't want that. The Republic of Ireland doesn't want it. The EU doesn't want it. Even the Tories say they don't want it. But when they decided to go for Brexit, they didn't think through the consequences for Ireland, and now they're scrabbling for a fudge or a technological trick.

Polls suggest that in the case of a Brexit re-hardening the Border, a majority in Northern Ireland would vote for a united Ireland. EU citizenship would give them better rights than non-EU British citizenship. Just by itself that wouldn't settle the issue. A united Ireland would have to provide regional autonomy for the mainly "Protestant" (British-Irish) north-east. It would be more difficult to achieve if Britain quits the EU and British-Irish people in north-east Ireland see a united Ireland, inside the EU, as putting new barriers between them and Britain.

Other longstanding obstacles to Irish unity have been eroded over the decades. The Republic of Ireland, with same-sex marriage and the referendum to remove the abortion ban from the constitution, is not the priest-ridden, bishop-ruled, heavily-Catholic state of the past. The South used to be less economically developed than the comparatively-industrialised North; now it has higher incomes and more dynamic industry. Now is the time for a political push to build on those social and economic trends, to combat the Brexit political moves to reverse and disrupt them, and to drive for a federal united Ireland, linked with Britain within the EU.

Win Labour to oppose Brexit

Labour Party conference on 23-26 September saw an anti-Brexit surge from the ranks, with more motions from local Labour Parties against Brexit than ever before on a single issue for a single conference. Now that needs to be nailed down by the movement pushing the Labour leaders into opposing Brexit outright and returning to support for keeping the freedom of movement within Europe which has existed for decades now.

The ranks of the labour movement are, by a strong majority, against Brexit. Labour is the only party capable of stopping the Tories and stopping Brexit. The labour movement is the only movement capable of uniting with labour movements across the continent to win democracy, social levelling-up, and a society of solidarity and cooperation across the borders.

Yet at the conference, the leadership fobbed off the anti-Brexit surge by offering warmer words on possible "people's votes". It was still equivocal, no more than a matter of options being "on the table". A "people's vote" can allow the people to say that the mess of the Tories' Brexit negotiations, and the emerging information about the bad effects of any halfway likely Brexit deal, has convinced those previously in doubt to support "remain and rebel" - keep Britain in the EU, and join with labour movements across Europe to fight for democracy and social levelling-up.

Yet Labour is still on a line which says that, in a "people's vote", it would not support "remain". Since November 2016 the Labour leadership has shifted to opposing free movement in Europe. With one voice it says that immigration is *not* to blame for "stagnant wages, crumbling services and the housing crisis", that the problem there is "the government and employers making the rich richer at working people’s expense"; with another, it says that the existing free movement must be replaced by a "managed" system. Which rules out "remain".

The Labour leaders' public stance remains that they would somehow negotiate a better Brexit, softer but still Brexit. It is an evasive stance, and on the evidence is designed to be evasive, to appear sympathetic both to pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit voters. In the long run, and even in the medium run, it can only discredit Labour with both camps, because both will see Labour as evasive, and rightly so. The present stance leaves Labour appearing equivocal about whether it will vote down a Tory deal in Parliament. It leaves a chunk of Labour MPs saying that they may vote to save a Tory deal (because, they say, the alternative might be a no-deal exit), and the leadership weakly-placed to pull them into line because its own criticism of a "soft" Brexit deal by the Tories would reduce to little more than a claim to be able to negotiate more deftly.

Rally Labour to oppose Brexit outright, and to support free movement!

A brake on bad will

In 1937-8 there was a move in the US Congress (the "Ludlow amendment") to require the US government to submit any decision to go to war to a referendum. It was defeated in Congress, but popular in the country. At first the US Trotskyists scorned the proposal. Referendums are a very limited and crude form of democracy, they said, and it is an illusion to think they can stop wars. Leon Trotsky intervened, and eventually persuaded his comrades to back the proposal. It expressed, he wrote, "the apprehension of the man in the street, of the average citizen, the middle bourgeois, the petty bourgeois, and even the farmer and the worker. They are all looking for a brake upon the bad will of big business. In this case they name the brake the referendum.

"We know that the brake is not sufficient and even not efficient and we openly proclaim this opinion, but at the same time we are ready to help the little man go through his experience…"

Ducking and diving

The Labour Party conference composite on Brexit called for "a relationship with the EU that guarantees full participation in the Single Market". On any halfway straightforward reading, that means support for Britain remaining in the Single Market - which can and should, of course, be combined with efforts, in unity with labour movements and the left across Europe, to change many of the rules of that Single Market. But since then (9 October) the Labour front bench has briefed the Financial Times which wants to know because big business wants the hard facts under warm words — that, for them, the conference decision definitely does not mean staying in the Single Market! Labour should stop this ducking and diving, and speak out plainly against Brexit.

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