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Anglo-centrism and Irexit… January 23, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Fascinating piece in the SBP this weekend by Tom McGurk. I don’t often go ‘wow’ reading an article anywhere, but I’ve got to admit he surprised me. I’ve long felt that his support for Irexit went beyond simple antipathy to the EU – and by the by, antipathy to the EU is a not unreasonable position. And for the first part of his piece it feels, and he says as much, like a retread of arguments he’s already articulated.

He writes, for example…

For months now, this column has been arguing that simply engaging in quiet diplomacy and hoping for the best from the EU – which has been the government’s entire strategy to date – is increasingly looking like an inadequate if not perilous misjudgment.


Given the now unmistakeable hostility evident all across Europe to Britain’s Brexit shopping list, intensified by Whitehall’s flirtation with a Trump presidency which Brussels now suspects wants to undermine the EU, why should the EU be magnanimous? Should they even care that a hard breast will actually cause more long-term damage to Ireland than to Britain.

That last is questionable, but he continues:

The bottom line in all of this is that because our government, by indicating from day one that seemingly in any circumstances create by Brexit we are committed to remain in the EU, we have effectively abandoned any real prospect of any effective negotiation on our part. Why should Brussels be concerned about any of our problems if they now from the outset that the day after Brexit, we will have taken our medicine irrespective and will e quietly staggering along in the EU? Ireland is too small, too take, and even has some past form that Brussels hasn’t always approved of.

Well yes, but he seems oblivious of the reality that that cuts both ways. If we are that small pray tell why would the UK take any notice of us at all. It’s pretty happy to ignore Scotland which is a constituent part of it. It appears unmoved by the implications of Brexit to the GFA as it is. What pressure does he believe the ROI on its own could possibly bring to bear in any negotiation?

He doesn’t actually say. What he does suggest is that Ireland might become like Switzerland, ‘part of the single market – the EU is their biggest trading customer – and they allow free movement, but like non-Eu members they are able to conclude bilateral trade agreements and continue to enjoy extensive FDI from the US.

But hold on, only a paragraph previously he writes that in addition to a hard Brexit ‘causing havoc with our trade, Britain rivalling our corporation tax and the catastrophic impact of Brexit on the border’… ‘add to this scenario Donald Trump’s US presidency unraveling the thousands of American-created jobs in Ireland’.

He doesn’t unpick the contradiction between that and a Swiss approach dependent upon FDI. Indeed he then goes on to say Lichtenstein might be a model for the RoI.

I was talking this last week to a left economist whose take – and they’d be as critical of the EU as many of us, perhaps more so actually, was that an Irexit would be catastrophic for this state economically. It’s not hard to see why. Where’s the percentage in Ireland becoming Britain’s mini-me, attempting to undercut it (should corporation tax fall, etc). Indeed the counter argument is that the RoI, taking account of the challenges offered by Brexit as outlined by McGurk, might find its English speaking, peripheral geographical position as a gateway to the EU as quite a positive new role for it in future.

But none of this is particularly new from McGurk. Nothing unexpected. Until we get to the last quarter of the article.

He writes…

Do we have a political class with the courage and the leadership qualities to step out and defend Ireland’s interest? Apart from their inability to imagine an existence outside the EU, they also persevere with the dangerous presumption, that an independent Irish state can happily survive without the proverbial mothership next door.

Say again, Tom?

It’s a fascinating thought, but Brexit may also be about to expose another national secret, the extent to which our independence has always essentially been a proxy, dependent on our relationship with Britain. Ireland may be our motherland, but Britain has always been like an auntie or uncle with a spare bed available and a job down the road. Britain has bene the Irish people chosen escape route for so many reasons.

Do our Brexit negotiations forget that the comment travel area was more an umbilical cord than just an open road? In the past when our independence experiment [sic – wbs] was crashed by our political class, as it was frequently, they escaped the consequences by simply exporting their problems.

In the 50s almost half a million went and where did the majority go so recently aft erat Tiger crashed? In the years since we both entered the EU, who can dispute that commercially, culturally and psychologically, increasing Britain and Ireland are becoming almost the same entity?

Huh? What? Really?

And he says:

Indeed, the notion that EU membership lessened our dependence on Britain is a myth, in fact the levels of direct business investment and cross-border trade have mushroomed since 1973.

There is so much there, so many assumptions, so many misconceptions (not least that trade=dependence) that I’m at a loss to know where to start, but one thing is for sure.

I guess at least we know where he stands, that all the stuff about the EU – about us being ‘the patsies of Europe’, about ‘our’ sovereignty, independence and so on appears at root be a rather cosmetic facade for a political position that would, it would seem, be quite content to turn the clock back to… well, when? Pick a date, any date between 1780 and 1948. And what sort of relationship does he really envisage this – to coin a phrase ‘semi-state’ that Ireland clearly is in his eyes with the UK. What was it I wrote last week, Scotland on steroids (notably he again doesn’t mention anything about the internal tensions inside the UK, perhaps that comes with a conceptual focus trained so strongly on London), Catalonia, home rule, something else?


1. GW - January 23, 2017

Well there you have it – recolonisation is the answer to the problems the British ruling class have foisted upon us through an immigration-fixated hard Brexit.

It beggars belief that anyone would want to go into a negotiation as an isolated small country against a much larger one rather than as part of an economic entity that dwarfs the larger country.

the RoI, taking account of the challenges offered by Brexit as outlined by McGurk, might find its English speaking, peripheral geographical position as a gateway to the EU as quite a positive new role for it in future.

Not certain but do-able – as opposed to trying to survive as an effective province of a neighbour who’s economy is imploding.

The North could, if the RoI government and SF plays it’s card correctly as part of the EU, possibly (less certain than the above) enjoy some kind of beneficially ambiguous status if British immigration and customs borders are made to retreat to ‘the mainland’, rather than re-establishing a hard border between the two parts of the island.

As I think I’ve said before, expect a lot more of this Tory-sponsored Irexit propaganda as Little Britain becomes more desperate. Expect various tiny Leninist parties to play along with them.


CL - January 23, 2017

“Britain is seeking to shift the frontline of immigration controls to Ireland’s ports and airports to avoid having to introduce a “hard border” between north and south after the UK leaves the European Union, the Guardian has learned.”

‘ we will put the preservation of our precious Union at the heart of everything we do..
our guiding principle must be to ensure that – as we leave the European Union – no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created,’

‘Taking Northern Ireland out of the EU will “destroy” the Good Friday Agreement peace deal, Gerry Adams has said.’

“The Trump administration will lay the groundwork this week for a trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K. that would take effect after Britain leaves the European Union, a White House aide said, as Prime Minister Theresa May becomes the first foreign leader to visit the new president….
Trump officials believe their discussions with May’s government encouraged her to be more aggressive in exiting the EU. She can use any American support to argue the U.K. will prosper outside the bloc although she risks inflaming tensions with European leaders if they suspect her government is actively negotiating trade deals while still an EU member.”

Bill Clinton was wont to boast of the ‘triumph of Anglo-American economics’. But that triumph led to the collapse of 2008.
Perhaps its no accident that its now Britain and the U.S. that are leading,-at least rhetorically- the reaction to this liberal economic ideology,-with Ireland, north and south, stuck in between.


2. botheredbarney - January 23, 2017

One point I take from recent SBP articles is that RoI should robustly argue its own national interests before and during Brexit negotiations. Maybe too we should not hesitate to think aloud about possible economic and political side effects of Brexit. By we I don’t mean the government only, but all affected sectors of Irish society including the trades unions, business concerns, educational & cultural interests etc etc.

Liked by 1 person

GW - January 23, 2017

Of course it should – that’s – probably unfortunately, and contrary to the Brexiteer propaganda – how the EU actually works, when it works at all.

It’s all about horse trading between the constituent national (predominantly but not wholly capitalist) interests. The trick is to convince other countries that your ponies would look good beside theirs.


benmadigan - January 23, 2017

it seems amazing that one country, in this case the UK, can decide to do what it wants with no accountability for the damage it inflicts on others e.g. RoI, NI, Scotland, Spain and Gibraltar, to say nothing of whatever interests are damaged in wider Europe.

In this day and age with laws protecting all sorts of minorities, is there no legal protection for small countries that are simply swamped by the population numbers in England and Wales?

Or is it just the 21st century variation of “croppies lie down”, shut up and take it, get back into your green and tartan boxes, for Ireland and Scotland?


ivorthorne - January 23, 2017

The negative impacts of the British withdrawal from the EU on other countries is something they seem oblivous to. And fair enough, they are within their rights to withdraw from their previous agreements and do their own thing if that’s what they think is in their best interests.

But when the other EU countries seek a deal that benefits their interests, this is described as “punishing” Britain or some sort of attack that proves the dastardly Europeans always had it in for Britain.

Liked by 1 person

benmadigan - January 23, 2017

indeed Ivor. I agree “they are within their rights to withdraw from their previous agreements”

But shouldn’t some sort of penalty/compensation for damages sustained by others etc be made?

Might that be encompassed in the EU deal?
Or would it need an International Court ruling or something similar?


ivorthorne - January 24, 2017

The penalty is there in that the preservation of the EU demands that the UK’s deal with the EU will be less beneficial than what they get inside it. The natural consequence is a negative one.

Compensating other nations for missed opportunity costs would make it next to impossible for smaller nations to leave and it is important for all members that the option to leave is present – even if it is never in their best interests to use it.


shea - January 23, 2017

Thats a bit Haiti.

England want out let them out. If they decide the costs out weight the benefits of membership of a club then leave it at that. Penalties for leaving the club is unjust.

If Scotland and the north want in then let that process kick off.

Bexit if it happens has changed something about the eu. The whole federal super state thing now doesn’t seem so inevitable if states can just walk away. There might be a new Balance.


WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2017

I’m fairly happy about that last re the federal superstate, got to admit.


CL - January 24, 2017

‘When elephants fight the grass gets hurt.’ African proverb.


3. An Sionnach Fionn - January 23, 2017

More often than not the Irexit argument is simply a unionist redux for the “southern Irish”.

Irexit => the Commonwealth => the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern and Southern Ireland.

As for Britain being Ireland’s benevolent uncle, yeah, the kind that ends up in court twenty years hence!


4. shea - January 23, 2017

there is a battle coming in this place between those who make money out of london and those who make there money else where, eu and trade agreements with the eu by non eu countries included.

Has to happen.

The economy is a satellite of the city of london. It is predictable that they will defend there interests up to the point of exit and fuck other people. and same for the other lot.

If the point of the state is to first of all facilitate business in that situtation were on this issue there are in the event of a hard border major competing interests might they be forgiven for a bit of dittering who owns them.


5. Joe - January 23, 2017

Before I go.
I’d have sympathy for the argument that this country needs to look dispassionately at where its best interests lie in all this.
And I think there’s a danger that we could choose to forget that Britain has been of some use to this country since independence. You know, the millions of people from here who have gone there and got work and made a life for themselves – when their own pitiful excuse for a country was run for the benefit of gombeen capitalists and under the thumb of the RC church from its foundation. You know too, the hundreds of thousands of Irish women who have gone there to avail of the right to control their own bodies – a right denied to them here in this wonderful ‘republic’.
British social democracy welcomed refugees (economic and social) from this benighted ‘republic’ since 1945. Even before British social democracy, hundreds of thousands of our citizens went to Britain to live and work rather than effectively starve over here. And within a generation all of them were integrated cos, you know, the Brits and us ain’t that much different when it comes down to it.
Saying the above does not make one an Anglophile Brit imperialist royal arselicker.

Likewise, this country goes into these EU/UK negotiations as a very small fry on the EU side. The huge economies of Germany, France, Italy etc will have most of the clout. What works for them may not work for us – our trade with the UK is a huge percentage of our total trade, theirs not so huge.
So, ultimately we should make our decision based on what’s best for us. If that decision was that we leave the EU too, that wouldn’t imply that we are bowing the knee to Tory Britain and fulfilling Lord Lawson’s dream of the people in ‘southern Ireland’ realizing it was all a silly misunderstanding and asking is it ok to get back with our old mistress.
The UK is leaving the EU. That’s Tory UK now, it could some day again be social democratic UK.

Enough, I’m away now. 😦 🙂


WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2017

I don’t disagree entirely but there’s a massive aspect to this that has to be recognised. Britain didn’t do any of this from the goodness of its heart. Read Conor McCabe’s book about the nature of the relationship between these islands and it is clear that Irish labour was a significant resource both before and after independence. I think it’s a stretch to say British social democracy ‘welcomed’ Irish. By the same token British reactionary imperialism equally ‘welcomed’ Irish from 1922-1945 and before.

There’s a broader point that taking a cold hard look at our interests does not and should not mean believing that somehow this island is an adjunct of the one next door or that our interests are coterminous with those of the UK. None of this is either/or in that sense.

But we are an independent state, with the hope of being an independent island (for some of us anyhow). I’d be very leery about betting the house on a social democrat UK. It’s our house.


sonofstan - January 23, 2017

“Britain didn’t do any of this from the goodness of its heart.”

I guess it depends what you mean by ‘Britain’ – of course the economic interest in cheap labour and food, dictated much of what governments here in the UK did, but Joe has a point about the less formal and on- the- ground relationships between the peoples of these islands. Many Irish people did find a life here when Ireland had little to offer, and England was, once, a fairly tolerant place (and mostly still is, despite the numpties). Just because both countries are generally governed by knaves and fools is no reason for citizens (or subjects) thereof to follow suit. To quote Adorno (as usual) ‘People are, even now, better than their culture’


WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2017

Surely, I’m half English myself on my mother’s side and was born in London, but I think that informal links while stronger than sometimes recognised are one thing, and the situation of the UK state itself is quite another. Nor are those informal relationships entirely devoid of problematic aspects. I’ve personal experience of hearing a lot more anti-Irish stuff on a personal level in the UK than the reverse dynamic here i.e. individuals talking about people being ‘a bit Irish’ and worse. Moreover those informal links, as we’ve seen with Brexit and some of the responses of left formations supporting it in the UK on here, also freighted with perceptions and perspectives that can be shaped near enough unconsciously by broader tropes about the relationships between these islands (and the same is true of English relationships with Scotland and the Scottish in a way). It’s hard too to think of an Irish equivalent of the sign in the following being displayed openly in Ireland during that period. Not to say there wouldn’t be antagonism to the English after the WOI etc, but…



WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2017

Just on the latter, check out the class aspects described in the following. Class and entnicity.



WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2017

And another thing! 😉

And this is actually addressed to Joe. Even were the social democrat UK line correct – and I think matters are not necessarily clearcut in that regard, this was actually a social democrat Britain where there was the small matter of its near total lack of care for those nominally under its legal and political control in Northern Ireland. Indeed partition, which many of us would view as a significant impediment to progress on and of the island was something overseen and implemented (albeit at arms length, given for example that Parliament at Westminster was barred from asking questions about the doings of the Stormont governments or many issues inside NI) by Britain. The irony of Irish women and men having to get out of Ireland to go to Britain in the context of that is inescapable. This isn’t either to exonerate the Irish governments then and after. They were brutal (in the sense of being abysmal). But so much of what we see in the 20c is a response to larger issues, some insoluble perhaps but many that a bit of ingenuity, effort and taking responsibility could have been massively ameliorated.

Thankfully the NI, NB, ND’s signs were not the only or even largest part of the Irish experience in England and thankfully most English were welcoming and decent because the reality is most English are welcoming and decent, but I’d still be cautious about scaling up that more positive experience to encompass all the dynamics extant during the 20th century.


sonofstan - January 23, 2017

A society reproduces the conditions of its own creation at a local level – a place where the domination of lesser breeds is foundational will license behaviour such as that. Whereas one such as ours, where the memory of being subject remains strong, will function differently. Doesn’t make us better people, as the rush to join the white folks once we got to america will attest.


WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2017

Of course the Irish aren’t better people and we can see the manner in which Travellers are treated here to see that Irish people don’t even need to go elsewhere to act abysmally – though I do have a feeling that in some instances smaller states may function more progressively than larger ones for a range of obvious and not so obvious reasons. Context and history and circumstance are everything. But my point is that – and I like you and Joe and probably all of us, love many aspects London and (parts of) England and have a genuine affinity for the very real positive parts of it and broader English culture (and then there’s Scottish and Welsh culture too) particularly its ability at its best to fold in many different cultures in an expansive way – one has to be cautious about painting an unrealistic picture of a very complex and complicated set of relationship and histories between these islands. To me the future is one where that web will allow for independence and co-dependence, not in a Tom McGurk way of looking at Britain as the ‘mothership’ but instead of similar, sometimes shared, sometimes very distinct cultures and politics but with a commonality too in parts. Work of decades. Centuries even.


ivorthorne - January 23, 2017

Much as in the US, the Irish only became accepted in Britain when other “more foreign” types started to arrive in larger numbers.

I remember reading about objections to “foreigners” coming to London back in (I think) the 19th century. The foreigners in question were Welsh.

Bizzarely, I suspect that if the more knuckle dragging Brexiteers had their way, immigrants from the continent, Africa and Asia were expelled and banned, it would not take long for the likes of the Daily Mail to start turning back to the Irish as a target.

Liked by 1 person

6. shea - January 23, 2017

that mccabe stuff.

this would be the hardest challenge that has faced, some of the pillars maybe since the famine.

obviously some taught has to be put into what takes its place if a hard brexit happens but would it also be worth letting happen.

Its not that far off the english shilling that connolly said did more damage to ireland in one century than the saxon sword in seven.

people making a home in the north of england or people facing no blacks no irish signs is all part of the debate but the emigration tap basically cleared the west of ireland. over 100 years of independence and this state is still as centralised as when the brits ran it. We can claim responsibility for that or self or we could look at the role economics plays in the process.

Liked by 1 person

7. botheredbarney - January 23, 2017

England, because it has about 54 million people and London with its high finance and Oxbridge, is the dominant component of the UK. Its peripheries, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, don’t have financial or electoral clout with the Westminster government. The psychological impact of an English-majority government negotiating Brexit has still to be fully realised by the peripheries. The logic of this situation tends towards regional alienation and the ultimate breakup of the United Kingdom. The populace of the RoI needs to think about a state positioning stance on such a possibility.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2017

Just on that and to echo a point made in the OP. McGurk and his ilk seem utterly disinterested in the potential break up of the UK or indeed Scotland full stop. I think your point re the state here getting some sort of stance on that is vital.


benmadigan - January 24, 2017

i think the UK will speed through the Brexit negotiations to prevent a UK break-up i.e. so as to prevent Scotland getting an IndyRef2 together and Wales linking up with Scotland. Plaid Cymru has now managed to get the Welsh Assembly to agree with the Scottish govt that staying in the single market is their red line.



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