This morning I read an article in The New York Review of Books about Northern Ireland and the effect that Brexit is having on it. This article gave me a whole new understanding about the damage that Brexit is causing and will cause in the future. Brexit may destroy Northern Ireland.
This article is by Nick Laird. It is called Blood and Brexit. It appears in the January 16, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books. There is a link to the article at the bottom of this post.
The article begins with the Laird’s childhood in Northern Ireland during what was called The Troubles, the period when the IRA was fighting the various Irish armies and the British occupation of Ireland. According to Laird this was not a good time or place to grow up.
Laird is a wonderful writer so I include a good number of his words in this essay. Here is the way his article begins.
“If I dream, it invariably takes the form of being hunted by men with guns—in a house, in a forest, on a street. Sometimes these dreams end with me being shot, sometimes with me stabbing someone. I only ever stab someone, even though, growing up, we had a gun, illegally, in the house—a double-barreled shotgun that my father kept beneath his bed and that we’d use occasionally for shooting rabbits. In my dreams I never see the face of the man I’m stabbing. I’ve had these dreams all my adult life. Maybe they’re common among people like me, maybe they’re not. By “people like me,” I mean people who grew up in Ulster, who from our earliest moments were wary, were used to watching everything for some sign, however small, that things were not quite right.”
“We lived in Tyrone in Mid Ulster during the spate of tit-for-tat killings, as they were called. We remember all the bombs and evacuations and fear. We remember all the shootings. We remember being turned back from going to school at a checkpoint by masked men with baseball bats. We remember driving around a hijacked burning car we were terrified would explode. Each evening the new scores of dead and injured were reported on the news. The hijackings, the evacuations, the bomb scares. Relatives shot or forced to flee their homes at night. We took an hour to travel the two miles to school every day so the squaddies could stop each car at the sangers—concrete bunkers at either end of town, manned by British soldiers—and check the trunk and look in our schoolbags. The usual checklist of Ulster strife, catalogs of close scrapes and witnessings and griefs. When men tried to break into the house one evening I took and loaded the shotgun, and propped it up on cushions and aimed it at the living room door, sitting terrified in the dark until my parents came home.”
Laird says that growing up in this world resulted in a lot of problems later on in the lives of the people of Northern Ireland. Today Northern Ireland has extremely high levels of mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction. The strong implication is that he himself is among the afflicted.
“According to a 2012 study, Northern Ireland has the highest levels of mental illness in the UK. In 2008 39 percent of the population of Northern Ireland reported experiencing a traumatic event relating to the Troubles. As with all such public admissions, the real figure can be presumed to be substantially higher. A 2015 analysis showed that childhood trauma stemming from the conflict has been a major factor in the development of psychopathology in Northern Ireland. Related to these factors are extremely high rates of suicide, by far the highest in the UK. Northern Ireland is also a world leader in the use of antidepressants (at almost three times, say, the rate of England). Corresponding to that are high rates of abuse of all kinds, and addiction to drugs and alcohol. The Northern Irish are world-class drinkers.”
The gist of Laird’s article is that life in Northern Ireland during the troubles was extremely bad. And that if Boris Johnson gets his way, Brexit has a good chance of returning Northern Ireland to to the same situation. He says that “Johnson’s withdrawal agreement will, by most estimates, devastate the Northern Irish economy: it will bring back the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, introduce a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, revitalize the continuing dissident Republican terrorism, precipitate civil disorder and unrest from the Loyalist community, and destroy the brittle peace established with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.”
In Lairds opinion, this is all thanks to the unthinking idiocy and indifference of the incompetent, callus, racist, public schoolboy types, Boris Johnson and David Cameron. He has good reason for these feelings.
Laird managed to escape from Northern Ireland thanks to a high school teacher who helped get him into Cambridge. He then worked his way through Cambridge by working in a local pub where he was forced to put up with the drunken upper classes at Cambridge who he now associates with the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
“Cambridge was a culture shock. I was the only Northern Irishman in my year at the college, and I discovered that Englishmen who had gone to public school (that is, paradoxically, private school) possessed a boundless self-confidence often only loosely connected to their talents or intelligence. Seven percent of British children attend public school, though when I attended Cambridge they made up more than half of the students. Class privilege is pervasive at Cambridge, as it is in all British public life, particularly among those who attended the loftier schools, like David Cameron and Boris Johnson’s alma mater, Eton. Confidence, founded or not, and its tone of authority will take you far.”
“In the college bar in which I worked I can remember having to regularly usher out a certain old Etonian, a nasty drunk, who, when I told him that he had to leave, would scream some variation on Bogtrotter, why don’t you fuck off? or Go back to where you came from, Paddy. He didn’t worry that he’d offended me. It was his privilege not to have to.”
Laird is definitely not fond of Johnson or his upper class public school cohorts. He says that,
“Watching Johnson interviewed on the BBC just before the election got me thinking again about the Etonian I knew at Cambridge, and his arrogance and racism toward Northern Ireland and the Northern Irish. To hear Johnson lie repeatedly, to witness his bluster and ranting, and his real rage when he was challenged, reminded me that there is a certain type of English public schoolboy who feels entitled enough to act, with impunity, in any way he likes. Johnson is our version of Trump, except that Trump’s entitlement comes from money and whiteness and Johnson’s comes from class. And now Johnson has been given carte blanche by the electorate to enact his far-right agendas.”
This is a long political article which does a good job of fleshing out the story of how Cameron and Johnson are in the process of destroying Britain. Here is the gist of what he has to say:
Currently, Johnson has promised a lot of things that can never happen. He says that there will be no border or border checks between Britain and Northern Ireland or between Northern Ireland and the EU. Obviously this cannot happen. As Laird says, Johnson is either lying or stupid, or very likely both.
What the situation actually looks like, if Johnson gets his way and Britain leaves the EU, is that there will actually be borders in two places, one in the middle of the Irish Sea and one between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic. This would effectively cut off and destroy Northern Ireland.
It could be that Northern Ireland will be economically isolated in this manner and end up being a very poor country or colony or something or the other that is not very good. It doesn’t look like Johnson has ever thought overmuch about exactly what this might be like. He just denies it all and says there will be no borders. It is definitely possible that The Troubles will then return to Northern Ireland. The battles between the Sinn Fein and the DUP could be catastrophic and certainly not good for anyone living there. No one knows exactly what might happen. Least of all Boris Jonson.
About the only thing that Johnson has been thinking seriously about is how he might best become prime minister and the hell with the rest of it. Here is Laird on Johnson’s real goal and his total disregard of of the results of his policy on real people.
“In truth, Johnson couldn’t care tuppence about Brexit: he is the sort of man who couldn’t care tuppence about anything, so studied is his nonchalance, so offhand his “brilliance.” He is, like Trump, without principles. The night before he decided to come out in support of Leave, he famously wrote two columns—one for and one against Brexit—for the reactionary newspaper the Daily Telegraph, and it was only his single-minded pursuit of power, it seems, that caused him to choose Leave as being the path most likely to lead to his becoming prime minister. Think about that. Think about someone now speeding an entire country toward a cliff edge they have no idea whether they should go over or not.”
“Johnson’s attitude to Northern Ireland is entirely typical of his class’s cavalier disdain for the non-English parts of the UK. The Leave campaign repeatedly said that Northern Ireland was not a problem—just as they said a trade deal could be struck in weeks. Johnson likened the Irish border to the boundary between Camden and Westminster. When it became clear that the border was, actually, a problem, Johnson abandoned the much misunderstood “backstop,” moving the border to the Irish Sea.”
Not many Irishmen believe Johnson’s blather that Northern Ireland will have free, borderless access to both the EU and to Britain. So it now looks as if Northern Ireland may actually be about ready to give up on Great Britain and and instead join the Republic of Ireland and unify Ireland. This is actually becoming fairly likely.
Also there is Scotland. Scotland has also about had it with Britain and it is becoming likely that Scotland will also leave Great Britain.
All of this would greatly weaken Britain.
I think that a lot of this will come to a head at the end of January, 2020. At that time I think that Britain, or rather the British conservative party, will declare it is leaving the EU and all of Johnson’s not-thought-out-future will then begin happening.
It looks a pretty sure thing that Britain will leave the EU. Then God knows what will happen. Actually, it will not be over soon. The negotiations over exactly what the new relationship between the EU and Britain will be could take five or ten or twenty years to be worked out. It took Canada seven years to negotiate their deal with the EU and the whole thing was twenty-two years in the making. And the EU is going to have all of the power in the negotiations. Britain will have no leverage, it will basically just have to do as it is told.
So, no matter what happens, this is not going to turn out well for Britain. When David Cameron thoughtlessly decided he need a vote on Brexit, just to pacify a very tiny part of his coalition, he had no idea about the horrible consequences it would have for his country.
Brexit may destroy Northern Ireland. It is hard to believe this may really happen. But then again, it is really hard to know what will happen in the future. Humans are pretty inventive about getting themselves out of dire jams. Maybe someone will come up with something. Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I hope so.
More reading on this subject.
I leave you with some slightly more cheerful images: