One of the more depressing aspects of the current state of the UK is that the seemingly inevitable path to a no-deal Brexit threatens the Good Friday Agreement, and the resulting state of relative peace in Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson seems to see that as an acceptable risk, but as Richard McMahon points out, the English have always seen Ireland as their subservient neighbor that is sometimes useful but whose wellbeing can always be sacrificed for English benefit.
It runs through 19th-century British depictions of the Irish as incapable of self-government, unreliable, lazy and inferior. For Benjamin Disraeli, a British prime minister who shares some personal characteristics with the current incumbent, the Irish were “wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious”. Most obviously, this sense of superiority and a refined “moral” stance was clearly manifest in government policy during the Great Famine of 1845-49, which caused the deaths of more than one million people on the island of Ireland.
This consistently damaging strain of thought continued into the 20th century, with British military and economic power often used crudely to address deep-rooted political conflicts in Ireland, which refused, and continue to refuse, to allow for simple solutions. Ireland, the thinking went, should be the handmaiden for glorious Britannia – and this servile position is for Ireland’s own benefit and ultimately serves Irish interests.
21st century Ireland isn’t having it, I think; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made it clear that a anything leading to a hard border in Ireland will be unacceptable (and the rest of Europe seems to agree) and refreshingly, Congressional Democrats here in the US seem willing to make that a showstopper for any post-Brexit US-UK trade agreement.
I once jokingly said that the whole thing could be simplified if England just existed the UK, and left Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to their own devices. It was a joke but with each new step in the long Brexit mess, it seems like the best option. For the Scots and Irish at least, but perhaps we should just let the English sort out what they’re creating on their own.