Why ARE ‘pa­tri­otic’ Brex­i­teers risk­ing the break-up of the UK?

Daily Mail - - PETER OBORNE - PETER OBORNE

UN­TIl this week , I never doubted the pa­tri­o­tism of Boris John­son, Ja­cob Rees - Mogg and their band of Brex­i­teers. Quite the re­v­erse.

I cred­ited them with a ro­man­tic re­spect for the in­tegrity of this coun­try, our bor­ders and our na­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

By con­trast, the Re­main­ers ar­gued that mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union was worth­while be­cause of the trad­ing ad­van­tages, even though Bri­tain was made sub­ject to EU in­sti­tu­tions such as the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice.

But some­thing strange is tak­ing place this week­end as the Brexit talks reach their fi­nal phase. Brex­i­teers and Re­main­ers have ef­fec­tively swapped sides.

The ‘ hard’ Brex­i­teers now ap­pear de­ter­mined to put the United King­dom at risk. Mean­while, those seek­ing to strike a prag­matic deal — led by P rime Min­is­ter Theresa May — are fight­ing to save it.

This is be­cause the cen­tral de­bate be­tween Bri­tain and Europe now hangs on the fu­ture of the bor­der be­tween Bri­tain and Ire­land.

I have crossed this bor­der, an area of great nat­u­ral beauty, many times. For much of the past cen­tury it was a dan­ger­ous place across which il­licit goods and weapons were smug­gled by crim­i­nal gangs and ter­ror­ists.

But the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, reached in 1998, put paid to all that.

It im­plic­itly com­mit­ted the Bri­tish and Ir­ish gov­ern­ments to a guar­an­tee that there should be no bor­der checks be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic — thus help­ing to open the way to peace af­ter many decades of blood­shed.

Un­for­tu­nately, this Ir­ish bor­der reared its head again when the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Bri­tain and the Euro­pean Union started over Brexit.

The ‘ hard’ Brex­i­teers are ab­so­lutely in­sis­tent that Bri­tain must leave the cus­toms union and the sin­gle mar­ket.

FAIR

enough. But Brus­sels says that Bri­tain leav­ing the cus­toms union and sin­gle mar­ket means bring­ing back the bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic in or­der to pre­vent smug­gling of goods from the United King­dom cus­toms area in the north to the Ir­ish EU zone in the south.

The Euro­pean Union also points out that the res­ur­rec­tion of cus­toms checks runs con­trary to the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, and there­fore in­sists that North­ern Ire­land must re­main as part of the cus­toms union, even if the rest of Bri­tain chooses to leave it.

This means there would have to be two sep­a­rate ju­ris­dic­tions within the United King­dom. North­ern Ire­land would be part of the cus­toms union run by Brus­sels, while in main­land Bri­tain we would de­ter­mine our own trad­ing ar­range­ments.

The prospect of a two-tier United King­dom, with one set of rules for North­ern Ire­land, has been greeted with plea­sure by Ir­ish repub­li­cans.

They hope and believe that over time North­ern Ire­land would draw closer to Eire, and even­tu­ally leave the UK al­to­gether. This prospect is greeted with hor­ror by union­ists, which ex­plains why Theresa May is fight­ing like a fer­ret in a sack to stop it.

As for the most de­ter­mined Brex­i­teers, they don ’t seem to re­gard the Ir­ish bor­der as much of a prob­lem. They dis­miss the EU de­mands that the Good Fri­day Agree­ment should be re­spected as a cyn­i­cal con­trivance by Brus­sels ne­go­tia­tors to pun­ish Bri­tain and cause mis­chief.

It may be that this is partly true. How­ever, it is not just Brus­sels which ap­pears to be will­ing to see the ef­fec­tive break -up of the UK. By the same to­ken, so are the Brex­i­teers them­selves.

This trou­bles T ories like me. I believe, in com­mon with many other Bri­tons, that the United King­dom has been a force for good in the world ever since its cre­ation more than 300 years ago.

It’s of­ten for­got­ten that the full name of the T ory P arty is the Con­ser­va­tive and Union­ist Party.

Cer­tainly, the Con­ser­va­tive Party rep­re­sents free mar­kets and cap­i­tal­ism. But the one pledge that has held it to­gether since its foun­da­tion has been its com­mit - ment to the Union and ev­ery­thing that comes with it.

It’s this com­mit­ment that took Bri­tain through two ter­ri­ble World Wars in the 20th cen­tury.

These hard Brex­i­teers seem to have for­got­ten that.

They ap­pear to re­gard es­cap­ing from the Euro­pean Union as more im­por­tant than the sur­vival of the United King­dom it­self.

And con­sider this: if North­ern Ire­land is given spe­cial sta­tus to re­main in the cus­toms union in the wake of Brexit, you can be sure that it will not be long be­fore Ni­cola Stur­geon ’ s Scot­tish Na­tional P arty de­mands the same thing.

SIG­NIF­I­CANTly,

the great ma­jor­ity of Brex­i­teers are English. Some see it as part of their duty as politi­cians to pro­mote an English iden­tity.

last week in the House of Com - mons, John Red­wood, one of their lead­ers, asked: ‘Who in this Gov - ern­ment does speak for Eng­land? I come into the Cham­ber and hear de­bates about the Scot­tish prob - lem and the Ir­ish bor­der , but we must not for­get Eng­land, our home base for most of us on this side of the House. Eng­land ex­pects; Eng­land wants bet­ter.’

Does this mean the rest of Bri­tain can go hang?

David Davis, who re­signed from the Cab­i­net this sum­mer in or­der to fight against Theresa May’s han­dling of Brexit, speaks the same lan­guage. He has called for an English par­lia­ment.

In­deed, in the wake of the Scot­tish ref­er­en­dum re­sult he quoted the words of G . K. Ches - ter­ton: ‘Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite for­get; For we are the peo­ple of Eng­land, that never have spo­ken yet.’

Haunt­ing words in­deed. But how ironic it will be that if in their bid to es­cape from the Euro­pean Union, the stan­dard-bear­ers for a full Brexit end up de­stroy­ing the United King­dom.

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