Sinn Féin has welcomed Boris Johnson’s new Brexit formula as a “least worst” option.
It expresses a “cautious welcome for the perceived maintenance of the all-Ireland economy provided by the [new] Brexit deal”.
At first sight that seems an odd about-turn. Although in the 1970s Sinn Féin was vehemently against the EU, it long ago changed that position, and in 2016 and since has been strongly against Brexit.
It still says “there is no such thing as a good Brexit”.
And Sinn Féin has long had a leftish colouration on social issues. Johnson’s new formula weakens Theresa May’s already-vague commitments to maintaining EU worker rights and social standards after Brexit, reducing them to a statement that the British government will not dip below EU standards… unless the government wants to.
It opens a door to a “no deal” exit at the end of 2020. Even short of that, it seeks only for a “free trade” deal with the EU similar to Canada’s and not an alignment, even partial, with Single Market regulations.
Sinn Féin’s attitude makes no sense unless a narrow Irish nationalist point of view blurs out the Europe-wide implications of Brexit.
It makes sense only in a Irish-nationalist view as narrow as that of the 1940s IRA people, who, though no fascists themselves, preferred a victory for Hitler in World War 2 because they thought it would help Ireland. The enslavement of many tens of millions of other Europeans was a price worth paying if the Irish nationalist cause benefited.
Brexit is, of course, a much slower-burning engine of destruction of European democracy, peace, and rights, than Hitler was. But engine of destruction it is.
Johnson’s deal, a version of an option offered earlier by the EU but rejected by May, essentially keeps Northern Ireland economically within the EU, and draws the economic border between a post-Brexit Britain and the EU in the Irish Sea.
The proviso that the “soft border” between Northern Ireland and the 26 Counties will be subject to cancellation by a majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly does not seriously complicate this picture. Short of great political upheavals in Northern Ireland which would also change many other things, no Northern Ireland Assembly will cancel the “soft border”.
Already, within the EU, there is probably more economic and social unification of Ireland than ever before in history. Even when the whole of Ireland was part of the UK, the respective economic connections of Belfast and of Dublin with different segments of the English economy were closer than connections within Ireland.
Johnson’s deal promises to continue that unification within Ireland while at the same building a growing barrier between Northern Ireland and Britain.
The Democratic Unionist Party was the engine driving the Tory revolt over Brexit terms which brought down Theresa May and elevated Boris Johnson to power. Now Johnson, ever the aspirant Bonaparte, has sold out the DUP. His deal indicates a greater barrier between Northern Ireland and Britain than anything May dared suggest.
The operation is a lower-key rerun of what French president Charles De Gaulle did with Algeria in 1961-62. De Gaulle had been brought to power in 1958 by a “soft” military coup driven and backed by the European settlers in Algeria, then a French colony. The settlers saw De Gaulle as a guarantee against the risk that a compromising leftish government in Paris would give Algeria independence under pressure from the militant war of liberation by Algeria’s Arab and Berber majority.
Then De Gaulle, calculating realistically, dumped the settlers. He steered towards independence and saw off a second attempted military coup in April 1961. He signed the Evian Accords, conceding Algerian independence, in March 1962.
The militant minority of the settlers (the OAS) launched a very bloody campaign of terrorist attacks on civilians to try to forestall independence. At independence, almost all the settlers fled Algeria, mostly to France.
Loyalist activists have been remobilised by Johnson’s deal. We are as yet far off anything like the OAS.
Sinn Féin now talks confidently about calling for a referendum within Northern Ireland on Irish unity within five years.