“POOTS OUT” is the obvious and hilarious tabloid headline, but there it is: after only three weeks in office, Edwin Poots – stalwart religious conservative head of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and effectively the leader of the Protestant movement in Ulster – was defenestrated by his party for, apparently, failing to derail the Northern Irish government over All This Nonsense.
The Tories called the Brexit vote in an attempt to quell the Eurosceptics in their ranks. It backfired massively. And despite Scotland and Northern Ireland voting decisively against Brexit, they got dragged along for the ride, two years after Scotland narrowly turned down secession because it might cost them membership of the EU. Brexit immediately brought up the issue of a hard border for goods and people on the island of Ireland – something that had been finessed away by membership of the EU and the Good Friday Agreement. And then, out of nowhere, Theresa May called a snap election and blew her other one off, resulting in a confidence and supply agreement that made the DUP the pivot point of the Tory majority in Parliament.
And then, when she couldn’t square the circle of “need to leave the EU but also need to maintain the Irish status quo”, she was herself defenestrated in favor of Boris Johnson, who has never been overly burdened by the demands of reality, and who promised to “get Brexit done” with no consideration for what that entailed. And then…well, his solution was to leave Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU, thus preserving the movement of goods on the island of Ireland…and slapping down a hard border in the Irish Sea.
See, that’s the dirty secret of the Conservative and Unionist Party in the UK: that second bit is just there for show. Brexit was a paroxysm of English nationalism; what happened to Scotland was of no concern and what happened to Northern Ireland completely out of mind. The Brexit bunch could not give thruppence about Ireland. While the Unionist movement in Northern Ireland nails its colors to the mast as more British than the British – and for its trouble finds itself sawn off at the knees. Now Boris tries to use the specter of sectarian discontent to prise open the EU rules and have it both ways, while the EU says “hang on, this is the agreement YOU gave US last year” and Uncle Joe Biden, who is as Irish as a plate of boxty, telling Boris “knock it off with this Protestant shit or it’s ring a ding ding for you bozos”.
And in the meantime, former Taoiseach Leo Varadker – him being the openly gay medical doctor and all – says publicly that he anticipates reunification in his lifetime, while the head of Sinn Fein concurs – and well she might, because her party has the most votes of any single Northern party at the moment (and any single Republic party, come to that) and has brushed by its Catholic nationalist roots to advocate for equal marriage and European integration and the sorts of things the young care more about than the tales of Sean South and Bobby Sands and the problems of agricultural adversity in Victorian-age rural Athenry.
It would be the height of irony for Sinn Fein to be the party that leads the North into the 21st century at the ballot box, but the imp of the perverse has a way about himself and Loki is generally undefeated in such things. All it takes is a few more young Norn Iron who want to be on the upside when things shake out. The Tories are unlikely to fight very hard to keep them, because after all, England will be just fine, and then you wonder whether they will look the other way as Scotland goes because that would basically end the Labour threat for all time. And then – Irish unification, Scottish independence, and the functional end of the United Kingdom brought to you by the right-wing defenders of Imperial Britain.
Wouldn’t that be something.