Man, #Brexit just keeps getting worse. I’m very pleased with how this video on the Northern Ireland problem performed. A month later it’s got over 14K views, which is more than enough to consider it a success. What’s more, I got a ton of positive feedback from all over on how well it dealt with the issue… in addition to the usual nastygrams. It appears that there are a lot of Brexit supporters in the UK who have not given this issue any thought at all. As the chaos has spun up over the past month, Northern Ireland has gotten even less attention. UK Prime Minister Boris’s inability to get the Parliament to do anything has raised hopes that we will get past the October 31st deadline with another extension, this mess will drag on for another year or so, Brexit could never happen, and maybe nobody will ever have to think about Ireland’s troubles ever again. I’m not so optimistic. In fact, I’ve got a kind of disastrous scenario for this month that’s been bugging me.
Most assume that the UK government will be bullied into asking the EU for another extension. I agree that that will probably happen. It’s what happens after that’s more suspect. Everybody assumes that if Boris asks, the EU will grant another three to six months of time for fiddling about. The EU doesn’t want a no-deal either. But what if the calculation is wrong? My understanding is that all 27 EU countries need to vote unanimously to grant another extension. What if just one of those countries decides “fuck it!”? A no-deal Brexit would be bad for Europe, but the past three years of indecision and investment stagnation have been pretty bad too. It’s quite possible that Britain will ask for another extension this month, and the EU will say no. I’m not someone that thinks No-Deal will be as instantly catastrophic as advertised. At this point, it would have to kill more people than the bubonic plague to be spun as anything other than “not as bad as they said it would be”. But I do believe the long term result will be terrible for the UK eventually, and in Northern Ireland almost immediately.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. It is looking very possible that Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will take his country out of the European Union on October 31st. One of the great assumptions of Johnson and other Brexit fans, is that the United States will be happy to welcome Britain into its new post EU future with money, trade deals, and special relationship solidarity. But in recent weeks it’s become very clear that none of this is likely to materialize. Because Boris and his Brexiteers forgot about the Irish lobby in the United States, one that makes the Israel lobby look like a bunch of lightweights.
I am embarrassed to admit that I forgot about the Irish lobby too. Back in 2016 I released a strongly anti-Brexit series of videos. My main fear was that British exit would lead to EU disintegration, and an eventual return to violence in Europe, because so many countries there think they deserve parts of other countries. I still think all of that is worth worrying about but It turns out I didn’t have to look that far afield for a return to violence. We are already seeing its beginnings in Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom became the United Kingdom in 1801, when Great Britain, the already unified island of Scotland, England and Wales, attempted to jam the Irish territories they had been oppressing for centuries into a new, more orderly kingdom. This was a disaster from the start, and became more and more of a mess across the 19th century.
Now Boris and the folks in Britain are trying to claim that the EU is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong by getting in the way of relations between the UK and Ireland. If these guys knew any history though, they would know that the UK hasn’t had a free hand in Ireland for well over a century, and that the US Irish lobby that has steered that policy is a hell of a lot scarier than any Brussels bureaucrat. For one thing, the US is more than happy to fund terrorism in Ireland.
The United Kingdom was always terrible at running Ireland, prompting the Irish to flee the island in great numbers. Between 1845 and 1849 this emigration became a flood, thanks to one of the worst Imperial crimes in the 19th century. British mismanagement led to the Great famine after 1845. A million people died, amounting to an 8th of the Irish population, and another million and a half left over the next decade.
Today there are under 7 million people in Ireland and British Northern Ireland combined, but there are tens of millions of people who claim Irish descent in the United States. Oh, and one day a year everyone in the US pretends to be Irish. Groups of Irish freedom fighters were founded in the US as early as 1858. Freedom fighters is what we call terrorists who happen to be white. At one point in the 1860s, US-based Irish revolutionaries apparently tried to invade Canada? It’s crazy stuff.
Irish-Americans attained real political power, especially in the big city machine politics of the 19th and 20th centuries. Back in the 1800s, this was just an annoyance to the British. But as the decades wore on, the United States got richer and more powerful, and our advocacy for Ireland got harder to ignore. Finally, around the end of World War I, a British victory that the US paid for, London found that they needed US good will more than they needed to continue to control all of Ireland.
Ireland won its independence in 1921. And don’t get me wrong, they did fight for it, for two years, in a war that killed a few thousand people. But they were fighting against the British Empire in the 1920s. These guys thought nothing of massacring hundreds of Indians in an afternoon, or killing Africans by the thousands in concentration camps. If the British weren’t trying to get out of paying the US for World War One, they would have been much more brutal to Ireland, and independence might not have happened.
Even with US help, things remained complex in Ireland. The new Irish Free State was largely Catholic, but the people in power in Northern Ireland were Protestant, so they opted to stay with the United Kingdom. This created obvious tensions with the many Catholics in Northern Ireland who would have been happy to join the south. Irish immigrants to the US had always been both Catholic and Protestant, but the US Irish lobby has always leaned heavily Catholic. Irish Protestants had traditionally found it easier to disappear into the US mainstream after a generation or two. Like a few of my ancestors for example. The US Irish Lobby leans towards the Catholics, and this started to really matter in the later 1960s.
From the 1960s to the 1990s Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom as a whole experienced what is known as the troubles. Many more people died in this period than during Ireland’s initial war of independence after world war one. Bombings and assassinations were common, and a lot of funding and weapons came from the United States. By this point the UK was now quite subservient to the United States, and the troubles were a constant irritant in the relationship. From the 1850s until the 1990s, the US Irish lobby was a tremendous problem for the United Kingdom.
This problem was formally solved by the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, where the UK and Irish governments acknowledged each other’s interests in Northern Ireland, and Catholic and Protestant political parties agreed to share power. But the Good Friday Agreement had an essential precondition that isn’t mentioned much in the agreement itself.
From 1973 both Ireland and the UK were both members of the European Economic Community the predecessor to the European Union. The UK has always been a pain in the ass when it comes to European structures, with a ton of opt outs and special rules, but by 1998, it had harmonized enough with European laws that there didn’t need to be a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That’s a really key part of peace in Northern Ireland. With Britain in the EU, Northern Ireland kind of gets to be part of the UK and part of Ireland. It’s not clear that peace is possible without that.
Now there are a handful of countries in Europe that have refused to join the EU. They also have access to the borderless free trade area, but in order to do that they have to agree to be subject to almost all of the relevant EU legislation, without having any say in what is being decided. This is not the liberation that the Brexit people promised. Boris and co. Promised they would be able to make up all their own rules, and retain access to the free market. The EU is obviously not indulging this fantasy. Instead they are offering what is called the backstop. The idea is that Britain leaves the EU, but Northern Ireland, and possibly the entire UK stays in the common market until both the UK and the EU agree on new rules at some point in the future. This is probably the only way to avert a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and a return to violence.
Brexit supporters argue that this backstop would make Brexit pointless which is totally true. Brexit was always pointless and dumb. Unfortunately instead of inspiring some reflection on the stupidity of the Brexit project, this has led to a lot of shouting about how the UK will just crash out without a deal, and delusional hopes that the US will bail them out with a new trade deal. And this is where the US Irish lobby comes in.
In recent weeks, US congressional leaders have issued a series of letters making it very clear that there will be no trade agreement if the Good Friday Agreement, and peace in Northern Ireland is put in jeopardy. British politicians may be looking at this as just another ineffectual Democratic ploy, but it’s really not. There are Republican signatures on these letters, and support for Ireland goes far beyond partisan lines.
It’s true, time has passed, and assimilation has done it’s work. Belligerently Irish-American politicians like Richard Daley and Al Smith no longer control every major American city. But from fortune 500 board rooms to your local Trump loving car dealership, the United States is still largely run by white men. And vastly more of those white men define themselves by their vacations to Ireland than their business trips to London. The Irish lobby is a big problem for Boris Johnson.