BBC to Irish minister: Why not just rejoin the UK?

Oh, come on. Does anyone want to tell this BBC host why Ireland doesn’t want to make the UK sovereign over the whole island again? Anyone? O’Bueller? O’Bueller? The exchange picks up at the nine-minute mark, after McEntee repeatedly makes the argument that this is a problem created by the UK in the first place — and after Humphrys accused McEntee of being “arrogant”:

Questioned about the possibility by the BBC Today presenter John Humphrys, Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, said it was not contemplating quitting the EU, that polls showed 92% of the population wanted to remain in the bloc, and “Irexit” was not plausible.

She told the Radio 4 programme on Saturday that, in the event of no deal, Ireland was “not planning for the reintroduction of a border”, and urged the UK to honour its commitment to ensure the border remained invisible, as it had since the Good Friday peace deal was signed nearly 21 years ago.

Humphrys said: “There has to be an argument, doesn’t there, that says instead of Dublin telling this country that we have to stay in the single market etc within the customs union, why doesn’t Dublin, why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland, leave the EU and throw in their lot with this country?”

Ahem. Does Humphrys mean, “Except for the 800 years of oppression and famine the last time Ireland’s lot got thrown in with the UK, why not try it again?” That’s even more amusing than the oft-repeated grim joke, “Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” Granted, it’s a very different UK and Ireland these days, but that’s in no small part because of Irish independence 97 years ago. And even at that, it’s not all that much different, as the UK seems not to care overly much about Irish input on their foreign and economic policies — otherwise, they wouldn’t be stuck in their current Brexit morass.

It does put quite a different spin on reunification, I’ll grant Humphrys that. Otherwise, count me in amongst the “gobsmacked”:

Suffice it to say that the Republic of Ireland won’t settle for Home Rule over independence at this late date. It would, in effect, create for Ireland all of the ills that the UK claims to be suffering as a member of the European Union. Ireland would lose control of its trade policies, immigration policies, and functional sovereignty. All it would gain is all of the pain that the UK is about to feel in a hard Brexit, and reunification in the same status as Northern Ireland. It’s an idiotic and ignorant suggestion, and a measure of just how desperate the Brexit debate has become.

In fact, Brexit has driven a bigger wedge between the UK and Ireland, Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told Irish-language broadcaster RTÉ earlier today. Varadkar blamed the UK’s pursuit of Brexit, largely without seeking input from Ireland, for “fraying” their relationship:

He indicated that a Brexit deal would give renewed impetus to parties in Northern Ireland to reach an agreement to restore devolved government in the region, 22 months after the Stormont assembly collapsed.

“Brexit has undermined the Good Friday agreement and is fraying the relationship between Britain and Ireland,” he told the Marian Finucane show. “Anything that pulls the communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday agreement, and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship.”

That doesn’t sound too cheery for the idea of “rejoining” the UK, does it? Not that there are a lot of cheery options anyway. A day earlier, Varadkar had warned Bloomberg TV that a no-deal Brexit could bring a return of a militarized border:

In a worst-case scenario, a hard border could “involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence, or an army presence to back it up,” Varadkar said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum on Friday. “The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is those things become targets.”

Varadkar said the backstop, designed to avoid the return of border infrastructure, is needed to ensure those scenes never materialized, and offered little hope to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May that he might be prepared to dilute the fix. Instead, he turned the onus back on London to find solutions, asking why a country “victimized” by Brexit should be constantly asked to compromise.

However, there did appear to be some hope of a breakthrough yesterday on the backstop issue, the main sticking point for a controlled Brexit. Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP which holds the key to Theresa May’s majority in Parliament, signaled that a new formulation has the potential of her support as well as support in the EU. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds hailed EU negotiator Michael Barnier’s “new and more realistic approach”:

The DUP may give its support to an amendment to Theresa May’s Brexit deal that bins the border backstop.

A senior source last night told the Belfast Telegraph that the party could vote for an amendment supported by 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, which swaps the backstop for “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border. …

Mr Barnier said: “We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border.

“We would be obliged to carry out controls on goods arriving in the Republic of Ireland. My team have worked hard to study how controls can be made paperless or decentralised, which will be useful in all circumstances.”

Will Varadkar and the Dáil go for that? That would create a lot of work for Dublin in support of the UK’s independence. It beats a hard border, but one might expect that the Irish might want some recompense for that service. At best, it allows Ireland to control the flow of goods across the line for two differing customs regimes. At worst, though, it would tend to push Ireland into the UK’s customs regime by putting the EU border at its shores — a mirror image of the DUP’s complaints about the backstop.

The devil will certainly be in the details for this proposal, and it’s still unclear whether resolving the backstop issue will guarantee May a majority for the rest of the Brexit proposal. There are too many within her party who now see a hard Brexit as the only legitimate Brexit. And it still might be the only realistic Brexit left open, disastrous or not. There’s a lot more chance of a no-deal Brexit than there is of a backstop solution resolving everything — and a whole lot more chance of either happening than Ireland suddenly asking to rejoin the UK, regardless of whatever they’re putting in the BBC afternoon tea.