In a recent Irish Times piece Chris Bickerton from Cambridge University and my colleague at LSE law Peter Ramsay argue that Ireland and the UK need to face ‘up to their sovereign responsibilities’ and ‘drop the [Northern Irish] backstop and work together to introduce a minimal land border, and to achieve a future UK-EU that preserves the close links between the two countries.’ The argument might have been stronger had Brexit been the result of a process of consultation both within the UK and with its friends beyond its borders. But of course it was not. Foisted on Ireland in the name of a country determined ‘to take back control’ why should Ireland now forgo control of its own future to assist the UK in the horrific quandary its dash for ‘freedom’ has made for itself?
Taking back control works both ways. The backstop is not the result of some kind of elite manipulation by nefarious EU and Irish forces. The British agreed it before Christmas last year because those in charge of their withdrawal discussions with the EU (negotiations is too grand a word) know how weak their position is, whatever purists – political and academic – might be saying about sovereignty or anything else on the sidelines of reality. The EU timetable for the talks, the money owed and so on were all conceded without a fight for the same reason. And it will get worse: the so-called Chequers agreement (a government agreeing with itself!) has already fallen apart.
Ireland’s sovereignty is immeasurably strengthened by its ties with Europe. It would be catastrophically weakened by returning to be the poodle of the British. Ramsay and Bickerton acknowledge the possibility of deep economic damage in Ireland and (though they are sceptical) a renewal of political violence in a way that suggests that these might be the reasons Ireland should now cave in. True there are some nice noises in the piece about the authors’ desire for a United Ireland, reminding me of those English left-wingers from the 1980s who were always disappointed to find I did not support the IRA. Imperialism has never been the exclusive preserve of the Right.
This is a talk I gave at King’s in 2016 at a conference on the important Ireland v UK forty years on