Your editorial (20 November) on the threat to the UK’s integrity says: “In the worst case, the union might be rent asunder.” That may be the case, and it is undoubtedly true that “Conservative Brexiters have long shown they simply could not care less about Ireland”. In an accompanying piece Fintan O’Toole (Don’t blame the Irish: this chaos is all about England, 20 November) points to the rise of English nationalism as the cause of this seismic shift in attitudes to Ireland. However, there are deeper issues about the future of this rather disunited kingdom. The majority of the Irish people never consented to the partition of their country, and it should not be forgotten that the current border was so drawn so as to ensure a permanent unionist majority in the six counties it encompassed. If the people of the north of Ireland decide their future lies in reuniting with the Republic and playing a full part in Europe, I would have thought that is something to be welcomed, not seen as a “threat”.
• In his excellent column, Fintan O’Toole notes the rights of everyone in Northern Ireland to have Irish, and therefore EU, citizenship – and this will continue after Brexit. That ironically even the most committed unionist will continue to be able to have such special ties with the EU is just one example where Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK, something the DUP leadership says it deplores in the context of Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal.
I could add another example – Ireland’s rugby union players, who last weekend beat the All Blacks for the first time on Irish soil. Perhaps the two Irish football teams would do better if they, too, came together and consisted of players from the whole island of Ireland.
• It is far too lazy to blame Brexit chaos on English nationalism. It is a strange type of nationalism that never names the nation, has no serious political party, no leaders or public intellectuals, and no significant cultural expression. Neither leavers nor remainers made an argument about what was best for England (though they did for Scotland and Wales). Brexit is being led by elite politicians who identify as British, not English. And Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable managed to mention England just once between them at this year’s party conferences. If English voters have a problem it is that they are frequently ignored, marginalised and abused in political debate. Asserting distinct English interests reflects frustration much more than nationalism.
Professor John Denham
Director, Centre for English Identity and Politics, University of Winchester
• Fintan O’Toole ends his article with the words “don’t blame the Irish, the Brexit chaos is all about England”. Isn’t it strange that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have been able to express views about the consequences of Brexit on their nations but England’s voice has been silent. And why? Because England has been ignored. Tam Dalyell, a Scottish MP, drew attention to the unfairness and injustice of this situation expressed in the West Lothian question. It has never been answered, and in a letter to me in 2004 his visionary observation that “the sky is black with chickens coming home to roost” was true then and even more apposite today. Political myopia is an affliction of most politicians.
• You report (theguardian.com, 20 November) that Mrs May tried to appease David Davis et al by resurrecting the possibility of a technological solution to the Northern Ireland border problem. In relation to problems with introducing ID cards, in 2008 Davis said: “Faced with intractable problems with political pressure for a solution, the government reaches for a headline-grabbing high-tech ‘solution’. Rather than spend the resources, time and thought necessary to get a real answer, they naively grasp solutions that to the technologically illiterate ministers look like magic. And most ministers are very illiterate about any serious technology.”
This seems to sum up the current position very nicely.
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