What’s going on in the UK is about as frightening as what’s going on in the US, which is saying something considering we’re facing a massive storm on our east coast and our president is mentally defective. Instead of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, we’ve got Trump tweeting about his personal grievances (including two new tweets about Debra Messing) while the Carolinas are beset with floods and tornados. Stay safe, people.
But the UK is in big trouble, folks. What’s going on in Brexit could cause it to break up. This is especially critical for Northern Ireland, because Brexit would create a hard border between N.I. and the Republic of Ireland, which few people on the island want. There is also a fear that a hard border could re-ignite the Troubles.
Before Brexit, I never thought a united Ireland would be something seriously discussed as a possibility within our lifetime. Now it is getting widespread consideration.
There is a palpable fear that the conflict in the north could be reignited by the British government’s refusal to accept the backstop, the continued breakdown of power-sharing in Stormont, the hundreds of UK police that could reportedly be deployed to the border in the event of no deal, and recent attacks by the New IRA. As the political system in Britain seems to be fracturing, in Ireland the main parties have remained unified in support for the backstop, as have the major pro-remain parties in the north, which see it as key to protecting the peace.
This BBC page explains what the “backstop” is:
The backstop is a position of last resort, to maintain a seamless border on the island of Ireland.
It would involve the UK retaining a very close relationship with the EU for an indefinite period.
It will apply if the UK and EU have not agreed a final deal at the end of a standstill transition period or if that final deal does not guarantee a soft border.
It will not apply if the UK leaves without a deal in October.
The EU have insisted that any Brexit deal must contain the backstop.
When both the UK and the Republic of Ireland were members of the EU in good standing, commerce on the island was mostly open and seamless. A hard Brexit would put the two parts of the island in different customs and regulator regimes, the BBC says. There would be military at the border. People would need passports to go from one part to the other.
Northern Irish already are splitting along unionist and non-unionist lines. The non-unionists don’t want Northern Ireland choked off economically from the rest of the island, but the unionists fear that any arrangement made just for Ireland would threaten the union. Pro-Brexit British fear the backstop would trap the UK into the EU customs union, like it or not. And old enmities are bubbling up again. See Northern Ireland conflict 50 years on: will a no-deal Brexit threaten the peace?
So, it is understandable that the Irish are really upset about Brexit and mostly wish they’d never heard of it.
And then Mike Pence came to visit. Miriam Lord in the Irish Times:
US vice-president Mike Pence met President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday during an official visit. His Irish hosts, up to their oxters for the last three years in Brexit worry, hoped to impress upon him Ireland’s fears about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the country.
He could, maybe, stick in a supportive word for us in his talks with Boris Johnson in London – his next port of call.
Pence, after all, is Irish American and wastes no opportunity to go misty-eyed about his love for the “Old Country” as he lards on his Mother Machree schtick on both sides of the Atlantic. He couldn’t praise Ireland enough on Tuesday – “deeply humbled” and “honoured” to be going to the hometown of his mother’s grandmother and so on.
But, after he said all these nice things about the “Emerald Isle” and how much his boss Donald Trump – he sent his best wishes, by the way – appreciates us and all we do to help American security in Shannon, he delivered a very strong endorsement of Boris Johnson and Brexit.
No room left for doubt. As Pence read from the autocue and Irish eyes definitely stopped smiling, it was clear he was channeling His Master’s Voice. Trump is a fan of Brexit and of Boris.
And this, after such a lovely morning, with Pence and his mother meeting the Taoiseach and his mother.
His Irish mother, as Mike calls her. He dotes on Nancy. So he should have known that any Irish mammy will tell you if you can’t say anything good, say nothing at all.
Instead, he veered off his rather gushing statement following his meeting with the Taoiseach into some crunching Brexit remarks about our duty to do right by Boris Johnson and the UK.
As the air in the steamy ballroom turned decidedly frosty, Pence urged Ireland and the European Union “to negotiate in good faith” with the new British prime minister.
Lord accused Pence of shitting on the carpet. Others in Ireland were similarly pissed:
The Guardian called Pence’s visit and comments “awkward.” Irish Central asked in a headline: “Did VP Pence betray Ireland in his Brexit comments during Irish trip?” An Irish Examiner column accused Pence of trying to “humiliate” Ireland.
“The cheek of him coming here, eating our food, clogging up our roads and then having the nerve to humiliate his hosts,” wrote political editor Daniel McConnell.
On this side of the pond there has been focus on Pence’s stay at Trump’s financially struggling hotel and golf course in Doonbeg, County Claire, which is not exactly convenient to Dublin.
Pence didn’t drive; he flew from Doonbeg to Dublin on Air Force Two. Wonder how much THAT cost?
To add insult to injury, one of the shifting excuses for this bare-assed money grab by Trump was that Trump’s hotel was required to “accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel,” Pence said. He might have meant it was the only place in Doonbeg that could accommodate the footprint, but the whole episode basically stinks out loud.
Kind of sad, considering the way things used to be between the U.S. and Ireland.
I understand the only people who turned out for Pence were some gay rights activists. But if Trump thought this would be good publicity for his golf club, he might be disappointed. Brexit will do the Irish economy no good, and the people in his base are more likely to vacation in Branson than in Doonbeg.