Many both on the Left and amongst the Irish and Scottish nationalists have welcomed the break between the Tories and the DUP, following Boris Johnson’s perceived cave in before the EU, over the border. They believe that the road to Irish reunification is now open. This article from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) argues from a much more cautionary stance.



– an Irish perspective


Boris addresses DUP conference during his now abandoned ‘No Surrender’ days.


Over the years of the  Brexit campaign the Tory leadership have been careful to avoid any explanation of the goals of the project. One element,  anti-migrant sentiment and racism, was already in progress following Theresa May’s former leadership of the Home office. For the rest, democracy was defined as never questioning the thin majority of the Brexit vote. For May, “Brexit means Brexit”. Johnston’s mantra was “get it done”. Now the proposals put forward by Boris Johnson are finally beginning to clarify the details of the class divisions on which the process is built.

The first clarification is that the struggle is essentially an English civil war with everyone else reduced to the role of spectator. Theresa May puts forward a soft Brexit. Europe agrees. Boris Johnson puts forward a harder Brexit. Europe agrees. The internecine struggle continues in Britain.

Although Boris and his friends continue to dodge the consequences of Brexit, arguing instead that any deal is better than no deal or that we should get things done without considering the consequences, the changes to the agreement spell out their aims. Britain will leave the customs union. Rules about a level playing field will be moved from the legally enforceable text to the meaningless initial policy statement.

These changes reveals the main goal of Brexit for the right wing. Conciliation of racism alongside abolition of workers rights and a sweatshop economy that will “make Britain great again”.

The area of greatest concern to Irish workers is the new proposal around the status of the North. Mainly this is a fudge and so it is designed to sow confusion, but it is possible to work out the details.

The main focus is on the Democratic Unionist Party. Their discomfiture is seen as good news for nationalists and as bringing a United Ireland closer. This view is based on a superficial analysis and a strong concern in Irish nationalism to avoid any scrutiny of their own role. In Westminster the elevation of Boris and deepening divisions leave the DUP as one voting bloc among many. This is a much more realistic portrayal of their status than the deference  shown them by an overly cautious Theresa May.

However the key thing to understand is that the Good Friday Agreement did not put the DUP in charge, despite a raft of concessions to keep their support, the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement was to leave Britain in charge, something made evident by three years of undeclared Direct Rule and a recent Westminster decision to implement changes on abortion and gay rights over the head of the DUP.

The new Brexit drive sees Britain and the North of Ireland leaving the EU while the 26 county state remains inside. Presenting this as a step towards a United Ireland is perverse.

Once we blow away the impressionistic fog the central element of the new deal in relation to Ireland is that the backstop is gone, replaced with a ramshackle fudge directed by the changing needs of the Westminster government.

This change was enabled by Leo Varadkar.  He talked tough and wrapped the green flag around himself.  He had unwavering support from Europe but, as Brexit drew nearer, the role of the Irish capitalist class, described by the poet Yeats as to:” fumble in the greasy till, and add the halfpence to the pence,”  reasserted itself. To avoid economic discomfort Varadkar tossed away the backstop, accepting that the six northern counties would leave the EU with Britain. The DUP complaint is about a border in the Irish Sea. This obscures the fact that there will be border checks in Ireland also – the only promise is that they will not be on the border itself.

The best way to understand the unfolding events is it an episode in an ongoing political disintegration.

The European project is in decay after a decade of austerity and ongoing stagnation. Europe’s chief concern is to make sure that Britain is not rewarded for Brexit and that other states are dissuaded from leaving. This strategy has been successful but at the price of a sharp move to the right by Europe as a whole. Its conciliation to racism and national chauvinism means that the strategy of “ever closer union” is now dead.

The British ruling class responded to austerity  by conciliating the forces of racism and reaction. No one questions the economic damage that this strategy will do. It’s necessary to press ahead with it if the Tories are to maintain the support of growing right-wing forces. They hope that a sweatshop economy will  increase profit rates and secure their rule.

The Irish economy has been summed up by many commentators as essentially a tax haven. Politics is a sink of corruption, with one commentator satirically remarking about a recent protection racket that he did not see why the gangsters should not avail of the same impunity granted to every other sector of Irish society. Government policy is  centred on supporting transnational capital, the European Central Bank, and the vulture funds. The economy overall is heavily skewed towards transnational corporations, with a dual economy of majority transnational and minority local firms. The overall effect is that the outcome of Brexit would lead to a 6% decline in the transnational economy. However the minority native economy would sink by almost half in the event of a hard Brexit. Faced with this possibility the class interests of Dublin capitalism come to the fore and blowhard language about facing up to the British vanished.

Sinn Fein emerge as simply dependent on local capitalism, echoing Fine Gael. They support the deal using the same fevered arguments as the Brexiteers – having a deal is better than no deal.

The emergence of the DUP as an appendage of British imperialism caused more of a stir because they were able to talk themselves up as the power behind the throne in Westminster. Now they are only one right wing bloc among a stew of such Tory groups. The refusal of a unionist veto over the terms of Brexit is a terrible blow to them, but the idea that the unionist veto could extend over all of Europe was totally implausible.

The cry is that this is the beginning of the end for partition. The truth is that the existing petition of concern, that gives unionism a veto over nearly all political issues, would have had to be modified to produce a functioning administration. The Good Friday Agreement has multiple safeguards around “equality of the two traditions” that would protect Unionist interests. In any case a genuine movement in opposition to partition is required as opposed to the current Sinn Fein playacting within the terms set by Britain. The claim to be the leading unionists in Ireland could credibly be made by Irish capitalism, who have made it absolutely clear that nothing as simple as a majority vote, even one confined to the North, would be enough to assure a united Ireland.

The main evidence against the united Ireland hypothesis is it has not arisen in the current debate. The Tory Party has put the DUP firmly in their place, but there is no suggestion of leaving Ireland. As indicated above, Dublin surrender of the backstop increases the political force of partition. Now Sinn Fein whisper about a border poll, but as this is at the whim of the Secretary of State it has no weight.

The overwhelming effect of the Brexit circus is to mobilise the right while confusing and demoralizing the left and the working class. The latest proposals by the British government are starting to dispel that confusion and expose the real aims of Brexit; accommodation to racism and a suppression of working class rights.

That greater clarity should help move the opposition from parliament to the working class and from European austerity versus British austerity to the struggle for a European solidarity based on the needs of the working class.




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