James Kirkup James Kirkup

Brexit is making Tories unforgivably careless about the union

On Saturday, a car bomb went off in the UK. In Londonderry, Northern Ireland, to be exact. It was the latest in a long, long list of terrorist-related incidents in Northern Ireland, many of them carried out by men who wish to unite the island of Ireland in one state.

Today, the European Commission stated, more bluntly than it ever has before, that Britain leaving the EU without a deal will mean a hard border between the EU (Ireland) and the UK (Northern Ireland). That means checkpoints and men in uniform policing the physical division of the island of Ireland. Let us, if such a thing is possible, set aside questions of whether that hard border is truly inevitable in a no-deal exit. Let us also set aside any questions of blame for the prospect of that hard border. Just ponder those opening facts. Could we be a few months away from events that might significantly worsen Northern Ireland’s current experience of terrorism? Perhaps you think that’s just Project Fear, more overhyped nonsense from desperate Remainers. Perhaps you think “of course no-one wants a return to violence but I don’t think that will happen.”

If so, I’d probably disagree, but I’d accept that point as an arguable one. At least taking that view of the issues acknowledges that terrorism in UK is a bad thing. Sadly not everyone seems to think that.  

Today I was at conference organised by the very good UK in a Changing Europe project. It brings academic expertise to bear on Brexit issues, under the direction of professor Anand Menon, whose Question Time appearance last week confirms he is fast becoming to Brexit policy what Sir John Curtice is to psephology. The conference was to publish a collection of short essays exploring aspects of public opinion around Brexit, essays that all deserve to be read closely by anyone who makes a living dealing with (or just talking about) Brexit and its causes. I may well explore some of those in due course, but that car bomb and that Commission statement make one essay in that report especially timely and, frankly, chilling.

That chapter is about England, and so, of course, it has been written by academics based in other parts of the UK (mainly at Edinburgh university) mainly because England and Englishness are often more interesting to people who aren’t English than people who are. It summarises the findings of polling last year which asked people the following question:

Some have suggested that leaving the EU might present challenges to the UK.

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