Skip to main content

Editorial: Will Brexit boost the case for Irish unity?

EVEN on this side of the Irish Sea we can hear the sound of cogs grinding as unionist politicians grapple with the new political realities thrown up by the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.

Thinking outside the box does not come easily to the DUP, which last time it was tested had a majority of votes but today commands only a minority of opinion.

The northern Irish statelet has always been a highly artificial construct with its boundaries drawn to guarantee a majority of unionist voters in a country in which British colonial rule had ensured a pattern of settlement that made partition an enduring source of conflict.

The architects of this bizarre edifice were concerned principally to ensure the flow of profits from what was an important imperial and industrial asset. 

A century later the labour-intensive industries which provided British capital with constant profits and a relatively wealthy sector of the working class some privileged employment exists no longer, or survives only in vestigial forms.

For the decisive sectors of British capital — itself deeply entwined with North American and European capital — which much prefer Britain to remain in the EU, or at least reach an agreement that aligns it closely, the border has become as irrelevant as it is invisible to people who live and work on either side.

In the rancid Brexit debate, the border has been the plaything of both bourgeois Brexiteers and rabid Remainers with little attention paid to the interests and opinions of the Irish people as a whole or a rational solution to the contradictions thus thrown up.

The serendipitous truth is that the Brexit vote could well be the turning point in which Irish national unity becomes an aspiration which a majority of people in both parts of Ireland and in Britain itself favour, and thus becomes a tangible reality.

Opinion has decisively changed. A clear majority of people in the north would be happy for the border to run down the Irish sea.

It has long been the case that few people in Britain share the obsessions which characterise unionism.

One manifestation of this tendency, which is refracted in different ways in different parts of British society, is the finding that a majority of Conservatives would be content to see Ireland as one if keeping it divided came as the price for abandoning Brexit.

The mood music which emerged from the meeting between Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson shows that the fix is in. 

It may not come to anything. It may founder on the rocks of Tory intransigence or, because it makes a second referendum look rather irrelevant, upset the parliamentary saboteurs now habituated to blocking Brexit.

It is unlikely to lead to a clear and unencumbered Brexit but it may well produce something like the deal the European Union negotiated with Theresa May.

Northern Ireland’s status as a political entity will not be resolved simply within the Six Counties themselves. With Stormont suspended, fast-changing demographics and important sections of unionism’s farming and business community eager to retain easy access to the Republic’s markets, many factors contribute to a fluid situation which challenges unionist assumptions that they have reliable friends in London.

Big capital has no eternal friends, only enduring interests. And Britain’s working class has no interest in continued British suzerainty over any part of Ireland or including its divided opinions in the resolution of our problems.

The Irish will go their own way. Our task is create the conditions in which a new British sovereignty is grounded in a progressive socialist politics.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 2,777
We need:£ 15,223
30 Days remaining
Donate today