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Britain out of Ireland, fight to shape Brexit

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Issue 2583
The DUP have scuppered the deal May thought she had
The DUP have scuppered the deal May thought she had (Pic: DUP Photos/Flickr)

The leaders of the bigoted Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) relished their power over Theresa May’s government this week.

They scuppered the deal May thought she had agreed with the Irish government and the European Union (EU) on Monday.

She hoped to find a new deal later in the week, but on Monday night her hold on Number 10 seemed shakier than ever.

Northern Ireland poses a problem in any attempt to negotiate Brexit. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU customs union and single market.

Britain almost certainly won’t be after it leaves the EU.

If Northern Ireland does the same, its economy will no longer be regulated by the same rules as southern Ireland.

That breaks the Good Friday agreement. And it would push one or both states towards reimposing some degree of border controls—dividing Ireland and provoking resentment.

So what if Northern Ireland stays in the single market or customs union under some sort of special arrangement?

That would point towards a kind of exceptional status and border controls between Northern Ireland and Britain—something the DUP could never tolerate.

And if Britain leaves the border with the EU open, world trade treaties mean it would have to open its borders to imports from the rest of the world too.

That’s out of the question for the racist, nationalist Tories.


May tried to find a magic formula ambiguous enough to fudge the question.

That’s why so much appeared to hang on the difference between the phrases “no regulatory divergence” and “continued regulatory alignment”, for example.

For socialists there are two clear and simple measures, either of which could resolve the dilemma.

One is to open the borders—to Ireland, Europe and the whole world. Immigration controls are a tool of racist repression.

Import controls pit workers in different countries against each other. The world would be better off if both were scrapped.

The other is to end British rule in Northern Ireland. The statelet in Northern Ireland is a leftover of a brutal product of empire that was founded on sectarianism.

The Tories can’t contemplate this, of course. It’s partly because their disastrous general election performance gave the DUP a veto on their government’s survival, and they are in no state to fight a new election.

It’s partly because of their historical links to the Unionists too.

And May’s crusade to scapegoat immigration—as home secretary then as prime minister—puts her in a corner where she can hardly call for open borders.

Brexit has triggered crises in some of the most reactionary structures of the British state.


Ukip has already imploded—and the vote deepened the ongoing Tory crisis it was meant to resolve. The Brexit crisis has given new ammunition to the Tory right who sniff betrayal in May’s deal with the EU.

Another twist concerns May’s deputy Damian Green, accused by former top cops of downloading pornography at work.

May can’t get rid of him without triggering a new cabinet split with Brexit secretary David Davis. But she can’t keep him without calling the cops liars—not a place a Tory prime minister wants to go to.

One of the main factors fuelling the Brexit vote was a desire to punish the establishment—and it’s working.

That’s why it would be a mistake to follow the Scottish National Party and top Labour figures into trying to roll it back.

May has laid out her vision for a racist, nationalist Brexit. But it’s not going according to plan. And that creates space for socialists to shape Brexit with our own demands.

The fight is on, not to cling to the EU but to win real free movement for migrants, an end to the bosses’ single market—and the fall of the British Empire’s last colony.

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