But there’s one area where it’s already plain that Brexit and the national interest, at least as nationalists understand it, are diametrically opposed, and that’s with respect to the situation in Northern Ireland. So long as Britain remains in the European Union, there is effectively no border between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. But if Britain leaves the EU there will need to be a border somewhere. But where?
Theresa May’s government has understandably rejected out of hand the idea of putting the border between the two main British Isles, as that would formally separate Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain. But the EU has equally understandably rejected the idea of erecting an entirely new bureaucracy to handle the customs implications of an open border in Ireland; if the EU was insufficiently sensitive to British concerns when Britain remained a member, why would they be more sensitive to facilitate their leaving?
But if Britain winds up with a hard border with Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement that has kept the peace for the past 20 years could be imperiled. While a return of violence seems hard to imagine now, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. And even without a return of the Troubles, a botched Brexit leading to political paralysis over Northern Ireland could spur Scottish nationalism.