What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote?

The Peoples Movement

June 26, 2016

What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote? Having campaigned for such an outcome, the People’s Movement is in no doubt that the vote is an important blow against what is a reactionary and anti-democratic project.

Democrats in the Republic should now seek to win back Ireland’s independence by following Britain out of the EU and the euro zone. Leaving the EU is the only way in which Ireland can disentangle itself from the disastrous euro zone. Ireland does two-thirds of its foreign trade outside the nineteen-member euro zone (two-thirds of its exports and three-quarters of its imports).

It is essential that Ireland have a special deal governing its UK trade; but while it stays in the EU it is the Brussels Commission, not an independent Irish government, that decides the Republic’s trade arrangements.

Although the Government and opposition intervened shamelessly in the referendum campaign, the Government should immediately open a structured dialogue with London to help facilitate a smooth British withdrawal from the EU, especially in matters relating to NorthSouth relations. This should start immediately, even before the British government invokes article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

The Government needs to decide whether it serves Brussels or the Irish people, north and south, unionist and nationalist. So it must not allow itself to be drawn into any EU plans to punish Britain in order to deter other EU members from following its example. Talk of the imposition of “hard borders” must be immediately rejected.

Dublin and Belfast must adopt an agreed joint approach. Up to now the Dublin political establishment has always preferred to act as Irish satraps for EU rule rather than stand up for the interests of the Irish people. Perhaps the lesson of the referendum—that at the end of the day the people will have their revenge for political arrogance and opportunism—may, just may, force them to rethink this stance.

Probably the first stage in the process will be an amendment to Britain’s European Communities Act to prevent any new EU laws or court decisions applying in the UK. There will then be a special act of Parliament to continue in being all existing EU laws, court decisions, and international agreements, pending a gradual working out of which ones are worth keeping in the interests of British citizens and which ones are best got rid of.

Then there will be notification of Britain’s intention under article 50, so setting in train the two-year or longer period for concluding an agreement that is referred to in that article.

Irish democrats will need to carefully scrutinise all aspects of these stages to ensure that the interests of people in this country, north and south, are protected. Probably this should be done by a joint working group of the Oireachtas, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the British Parliament.

The prospect that membership of a developing European Union would help to bring the people in both parts of Ireland closer together politically was a significant element in securing the assent of the Republic’s citizens to joining the then EEC in the first place. This formed the core of official Ireland’s all-Ireland thinking.

But the fatal blind spot of that policy is that it never had the answer to the fundamental question as to why Northern nationalists or unionists should look favourably on a united Ireland when that would merely mean exchanging rule from London for rule from Berlin and Frankfurt. Official Ireland never had an answer to this question, nor perhaps did it ever really feel that it needed one.

On the other hand, the traditional aim of Irish democracy has not been a united Ireland but a united independent Ireland—or, to put it another way, an Ireland united in independence. After all, Ireland was united between 1801 and 1921 as part of the United Kingdom, but it had no independence. Uniting Ireland or encouraging a united Ireland through “evercloser union” would have had many similarities to that nineteenth-century Irish unity inside the United Kingdom.

The alternative that democrats offer Northern unionists and nationalists is a central role in running an independent Irish state—not subordination to a Franco-German economic fiefdom in which most laws and policies are decided in Brussels or Frankfurt.

Those who aspire to a united independent Ireland should be aware of the new terrain in the struggle for independence and national democracy that Brexit has opened up, and develop their policies and political struggles accordingly.

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