For over six centuries Ireland has suffered from its imperialistic neighbor. Located just across the Irish Sea, certain parts of the three cultures of Wales, Scotland, and England, collectively known as the British people, have considered Ireland their personal punching bag.
And now it is happening again.
Led by their conservative ruling class, the British have always set themselves above other countries. The notion of a United Kingdom or Great Britain came from an attitude toward the world that was enhanced by their powerful Navy, which for years defeated and dominated many other nations.
Today, countries like Canada, Australia, India, and Israel are free from British control. It is no longer true that the sun never sets on the British Empire. But we still see Britain holding on to bits and pieces like Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, the Republic of Ireland still suffers from the weight of British imperialism in Northern Ireland. The British attitude of superiority exists today in the vote of its people to leave the European Union. It was close – 52 percent to leave and 48 percent to stay in the EU, with Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the millions around London voted against leaving.
The new Conservative government, however, is fighting hard to leave the Union. A formal letter has been sent to the EU by British Prime Minister Theresa May announcing her intention to begin negotiations to leave the organization. Any agreement must be approved by all the 27 countries remaining, and everyone agrees that the final exit will take at least two years and probably longer.
Meanwhile, the idea that Britain will be leaving the European Union is causing immense worry nearly everywhere. Brexit, as it is called, will be extremely difficult to manage. The other EU countries are not happy with Britain and it is anticipated they will make it a long and tedious process to discourage any more countries from leaving. No one knows what the final agreement will look like.
The chief negotiator for Europe, Michel Barnier, has said that any agreement about Gibraltar will have to be approved by Spain. Immediately, a conservative British leader, Lord Michael Howard, threatened to go to war, citing the example of The Falkland Islands war. Howard’s reaction is classic British. The Falklands war resulted in 2,700 killed and wounded for an island thousands of miles from London with a population of 3,000.
Barnier has said that the first item on his agenda is the payment of 50 billion euro to the EU for British obligations under the current agreement. That should be interesting.
In a surprise move in April, May called for a snap election for the 650 members of the British Parliament. It is scheduled for June 8. A regular election was not due until 2020. The reason given was her desire to strengthen her majority while she is negotiating Brexit. But the move shows uncertainty at best and, probably, a worry about the weakness in her position. She has said she will not participate in television debates.
Meanwhile, in Ireland and Northern Ireland, there is fear that their people will suffer greatly because of Brexit. The political situation in the North is already in turmoil due to the startling success of Sinn Fein in the March election. The parties cannot come to agreement on new rules for government and Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire, who reports to May, had set a deadline of early May for agreement by all parties.
With the death of Martin McGuinness, there does not appear to be a leader in the North with enough stature to bring everyone together to form a government. There even seems to be a rise in dissident IRA activity. The alternatives for the government are another election or the return of all power to London, which, of course, was the cause of much of the violence in the first place.
Most of the Unionists in Northern Ireland are delighted with Brexit, seeing it as another step away from a united Ireland. They would also be delighted with government returning to London. In all, it is a very volatile situation.
According to the Belfast Telegraph in early April, “The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Charles Flanagan, called Brexit ‘a bad decision,’ and added that Ireland “should not be placed at more of a disadvantage than the UK as a result of its decision to leave.”
A well-known Irish reporter, John Spain of Irish Central, says: “Brexit can only have two outcomes for Ireland, extremely bad or even worse. There is no possible upside for us.”
Ray Bassett, former Irish Ambassador to Canada, has been as saying, “There are 500,000 Irish citizens living in England. Who is protecting their rights.”
Colum Eastwood, head of the SDLP, recently said that when May called for a snap election, she threw a “hand grenade” into the middle of the peace process.
Secretary of State Brokenshire has now changed his mind in view of the snap election and postponed the deadline for a new government agreement in the North to June 28.
To London and Theresa May, the Irish don’t matter much. The people of Northern Ireland should remember this.