Brexit shows how deep British ignorance of Irish history goes

Poster of Brexit architects David Davis, Boris Johnson, and Jacob Rees-Mogg
Support us and go ad-free

Over the last three years, Theresa May’s government has shown again and again that it’s incapable of doing anything other than blaming others for its own inability to form a coherent Brexit policy. One country that’s come in for criticism is my own: Ireland. The constant ignorance of and threats to Ireland may have gone relatively unnoticed by the wider population in the UK; but that’s not the case here. Many have noted what’s been hurled in our direction over the last few years. And with a mixture of anger and incredulity, we look on in wonder. Because the leaders of Brexit seem intent on burning everything to the ground in the name of their version of freedom.

As The Canary has previously reported, Brexit supporters in the British parliament operate under the illusion it’s still 1845; and like then, Irish people can be ignored or cast aside as an irritation. Brexiteers seem to believe, regardless of the consequences, that what they do is always righteous and proper. When they get a reminder that it’s 2019, annoyance appears to be the most generous interpretation that we could give to their reactions.

The Irish obstacle

One former Tory minister was anonymously quoted as saying: “The Irish really should know their place.” The secretary for Northern Ireland, meanwhile, admitted that she didn’t know that nationalists don’t vote for unionists and unionists don’t vote for nationalists in the north of Ireland. And Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested there was always the facility to “have people inspected” at the border between the north and south of Ireland, just as had been the case during the Troubles. In response, Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said it was “hard to believe that a senior politician is so ill informed about Ireland”. Comments like these engender a sense of wonder and outrage amongst Irish people.

It seems that the concept of Ireland having interests separate from British notions of Brexit is beyond the comprehension of British elites. We are to do as we are told and not get in the way like the good ‘Paddys’ we once were. We should ‘know our place’. But it also brings forth a sense of nationalism that’s been dormant in the Irish psyche for a long time.

Reigniting Irish nationalism

Our nationalism was dormant because of the Troubles. Any nationalistic sentiment was seen as a potential source of support for the IRA or Sinn Féin. The government and the Catholic Church had to repress it. With the Good Friday Agreement, the repression eased, but it still remained given our need to stay on friendly terms with the UK. It was also important to keep it repressed because of the need to ensure the success of the Good Friday Agreement itself. Ideas about reunification had to be put on hold.

Now, though, intentional ignorance on the part of Brexiteers has given us an opening to discuss past injustices that the British were responsible for in Ireland. It also gives us an opportunity to ask if anything has really changed. Do British elites look at us as equals? Or is there an imperialism that undergirds their view of the world; an imperialism which defines Ireland, its history, and its people as being beneath them; and an imperialism in which the world owes the British elite a penance for its lack of the appropriate British perspective?

For Irish people, that means we should know our place and not stand in the way of more important British plans. This is similar to the Irish experience of British governance in the 19th century. During that time, food and economic relief could not get in the way of British free-market policies. These policies were in large part responsible for the starving and emigration of millions of Irish people. And today, a peace treaty that ended violence on both islands is also an inconvenience. Brexiteers want to cast it aside because it stands in their way. A supposedly greater venture awaits them.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free
Hard power

What this greater venture is only the likes of Rees-Mogg know. But it appears to be some attempt at restoring the edifice of the British Empire. It also seems to be an attempt to make countries like Ireland remember their place in the world order. Likewise, the European Union must be made to remember the power of the former empire.

Just two days ago, it was announced that a British aircraft carrier was being sent to the South China Sea. The reason for this is to apparently show that Britain is “ready to use hard power”, according to defence secretary Gavin Williamson. This is the last cry of an elite desperate for a return to the old days where they were free to reign. In their minds, Brexit will also give them a chance at returning to this ‘high point’ of British history. If only Ireland didn’t stand in the way.

Featured image via Matt Brown/Flickr

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. its clear to myself living in Canda the Tories still consider Northern Ireland to be a colony.
      The fact they can bribe the DUP with 2 billion to vote on what is desired by the Tories is a clear indication of this.
      No independence in showing they have a mind of thier own.
      I hear the Ash for Cash scandal was refused a proper inquiry so the corruption of Northern Ireland by the Tories is also considerd a valid political cause as well.
      Denial of the truth is certainly a talent they have developed over the centuries few can equal,
      and they become positively outraged when confronted about it.
      Looks like all of Ireland will be reunited soon considering the choices presented by the UK Tories on who the Irish would rather be with. The UK or the Republic.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.