This dark October morning, there are two questions about Brexit which are in a lot of people’s heads. The second and obvious one is what way the vote will go in the House of Commons – will they vote through Boris Johnson’s latest deal? The first, lurking at the back of many heads, is what in the name of God will the media talk about, what will we talk about, if Boris’s bill gets the thumbs-up?
To approach the first question first, and with the health warning that I’ve always been a lousy predictor of future events, it’s my belief that the British will pass Johnson’s deal today. There will be many different reasons why MPs will do that, but eminent among them will be the aching, weary, bleary-eyed sense of fatigue over the whole business. As more than one man/woman in the street has told reporters over the past two years: “Just get the fucking thing done!” OK, some of them were politer than that but the sentiment was the same – stop obsessing with this bloody Brexit.
But just as they were lied to on the side of Boris’s famous bus (has Johnson ever been confronted with this naked-as-a-jaybird lie?), they are being lied to now about how final this vote will be. This is only the start of it: the political agreement with the EU has now to be addressed – things like workers’ rights, for example. And that promises to go on longer and be a helluva lot tougher than the withdrawal bill.
As to the merits of the deal compared to Theresa May’s, any woman who has ever sat at a meeting where she proposed an idea which was summarily rejected, to find that ten minutes later, essentially the same idea is proposed by a man and hailed as wisdom – any such woman will know how Theresa May is feeling today. Because there’s no doubt that Boris’s breezy, can-do, bulldog-spirit did play an important part in getting this almost-Theresa deal this far. Today in the House of Commons it will also play an important part.
If it does, the DUP will be very unhappy bunnies. They will believe that the union with Britain has been weakened. In one sense I think they’re right. The deal will certainly strengthen the hand of the Scottish National Party and anyone else keen on Scottish independence. Scots will look over at us in this gilded cage and ask why the hell they should be dragged out of the EU when almost two-thirds voted against it, and why are they not given the final say, as we are being promised, every four years ad infinitum? And if Scotland goes, you can bet your house on it that our dreary green corner will call a border poll and similarly leave.
So I have some sympathy with the DUP who warn that Boris’s deal will destabilize the Sacred Union.
But hey – don’t worry about that, guys. Worry instead about the fact that, even before the first four-year vote on the deal can be held, a border poll on Irish reunification will have been held and won by nationalists/republicans. If it is held, and Professor Colin Harvey is among those who think it will – he wants it called in 2023, twenty-five years after the Good Friday Agreement – then all this guff about voting on Boris’s deal will have rea-ched its sell-by date.
So in terms of the union with Britain, what happens today may not ultimately matter, beyond the likelihood that it will speed up what’s going to happen anyway. How do you like them apples, Arlene?
A As to the second question above: fret not. We’ll be too absorbed in planning what a new Ireland will look like to miss Brexit as a talking point.