The Backstop for All Future Backstops: Didn’t the Brits Think of the Irish Border When Voting for Brexit?
The Irish border backstop quagmire is certain to make all EU countries think of their border regions if they are ever tempted to consider leaving the Union.
The UK’s Brexit quagmire – presently rapidly shaping up as an upcoming hard Brexit debacle – has been resembling a very bad sitcom for a while now. With a flawed setting, a questionable premise, clueless writers, and bad actors.
Its thorniest issue – that of the Irish – Irish border, and the backstop clause insisted upon by the European Union in order to keep that border between the EU’s Republic of Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland open – is reminiscent of a scene from a good sitcom, though. Actually, probably from the best sitcom ever, “Friends”.
By the way, that scene happens to involve a British person, Emily, Ross’s second wife who was so jealous of Rachel that their marriage turned out to be particularly short-lived.
(In Episode 5 of Season 5, “The One with the Kips”:)
Being in a quagmire of his own, Ross wonders what to do as Emily demands that for their marriage to be given a chance, he should not see Rachel anymore.
Joey: You want my advice?
Ross: Yes! Please!
Joey: You’re not gonna like it.
Ross: That’s okay.
Joey: You got married too fast.
Ross: That’s not advice!
Joey: I told ya.
How is that like the UK’s current impasse with respect to Brexit, the EU’s rightful insistence on a backstop clause with respect to the Irish – Irish border, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s messy approach seemingly aimed at achieving a no-deal Brexit on October 31, 2019?
There’s the Joey-style “advice” for the UK: it voted for Brexit too fast. And when it did, all outright Brexiteer lies and half-truths aside, it didn’t think of the Irish – Irish border and the Northern Ireland question enough, if at all.
The fate of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, one of the four constituent countries of the UK, has now constantly been described as “the thorniest” issue in the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU. Well, what else would it be?
What was everybody in the UK who voted for Brexit thinking?
And especially everybody in England, since Scotland and Northern Ireland actually voted “Remain”, and Wales voted “Leave” but by such a small number of votes that it didn’t matter much.
Against the backdrop of the red bus with fake NHS funding promises and Nigel Farage’s spittle-emitting EU-bashing tirades, it seems as though back in 2016, few Brits, or English, even remembered that the plucky little island of Britain isn’t exactly a perfect island, and that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland actually has a real land border with the (rest of the) European Union.
It has a land border with the EU on the neighboring island of Ireland. And this was a border with tremendously complicated issues until very recently, just until 20 years ago, stemming from the complex historical relations between the English and the non-English on the British Isles.
Even if just because of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the decision to go for Brexit was utterly irresponsible. Actually, no, not the decision to go for Brexit – but the decision to go for Brexit without a very clear, very precise plan as to how to guarantee that the Irish – Irish border won’t become a huge source of renewed Troubles.
(I have already stated my belief that if the Brits / English wanted to leave, they should be let go given all of their constant anti-EU disgruntlement despite holding a top seat at the EU table, having a greater say than their weight warrants, and enjoying an incredible list of opt-outs and rebates. I first recommended that back in 2011.)
Despite all fears in London that the EU is trying to trap the post-Brexit UK in its customs union and single market, the EU and the Republic of Ireland have every right to insist on the backstop. Not to “trap” the UK, God forbid, but for the sake of those EU border regions in question, which on top of that happen to include the extremely sensitive country of Northern Ireland.
It’s not just that the Brits / English forgot about the UK’s land border with the EU back in 2016. It’s as though everybody keeps forgetting that much of what the EU is about are the border regions.
It is thanks to the European Union that once dilapidated border regions have become bustling centers of economic and cultural activity and social life, not to mention the utterly impressive situations in which millions of Europeans have been able to live in one country and go to work in another. And this this has been considered perfectly normal for a long time now.
Those beneficial setups of open borders specifically helping and boosting the border regions have been going on for decades now in Western Europe proper, and have recently spread even to my native Bulgaria, the least economically advanced country in the EU, in which the murderous communist regime took extra care to create an inner “ring” of somewhat decent cities to live in, while designating the rest of the country “border areas” where all hopes come to die.
(Of course, if you are a former communist or another type of country lagging economically behind it helps far more if your intra-EU neighbors are rich and innovative states such as Germany and Austria in the cases of Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary. In Bulgaria’s case, its EU neighbors are debt-ridden Greece and fellow ex-communist Romania but even then the EU benefits to the border regions are very, very tangible.)
The Brexit referendum and the ensuing Brexit talks might not be the first time London and the island of Britain didn’t take into much account the situation of Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that is simply unforgivable especially with respect to such a border region with a long and bloody history of sectarian violence.
Again, not as an argument against Brexit but because before going ahead with Brexit, a clear-cut plan should have been in place on how to prevent any worst-case scenarios. It’s September 2019, the already twice postponed Brexit is a month away and no such plan has emerged – other than the EU backstop.
I distinctly remember a decade ago how a retired Welsh man living in Bulgaria was telling me that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland would be adamantly opposed to the UK’s possible exit from the EU, and might even consider breaking off just to stay in the EU. He cited as one of the main reasons for his view all the infrastructure improvements and investments made in these parts of the UK with EU funding, with numerous information signs and billboards reminding and testifying to that.
Hardly anybody in the EU would ever wish to see a breakup of the UK, a founding member of NATO, a pillar of the West, and, last but not least, the cradle of contemporary Western democracy. In essence, importance of British democracy and parliamentarism is so gigantic that it is warranted to say that England / Britain, and not Ancient Greek or Ancient Rome, is “the place where it all began” as far as the West is concerned. Without the English from time of Magna Carta onwards, what would have Europe been left with historically? French statism and Prussian militarism?
Now the Brits / English have chosen to abondon Europe, i.e. abondon themselves in a sense, and at that to do so without any prior consideration of the fate of the UK’s only land border.
With a no-deal Brexit looming very large, and the Brexit deadline coming very soon, with all the British outrage about Brussels’ intransigence over the backstop, it is simply unfathomable that the issue of the Irish – Irish border didn’t figure far, far more prominently in the entire Brexit debate and the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.
It might already be too late to prevent troubles (or Troubles) stemming from a hard Ireland – Northern Ireland border but the backstop issue would at least make anybody else considering leaving the European Union think not twice but thrice about the ramifications such a move is going to have on their border regions, many of which would be DOA without the EU.
Ivan Dikov is the author of the books “Got Nukes, Mr. Dictator? You Hold On to Them!”, “Madman Diplomacy: Is North Korea Trying to Bring Back Regime Change?”, and “Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together”, among others.
(Banner image: Flickr)