Brexit and Ireland: Loyalism is racism – and these racists have guns

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‘...the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party and that word unionist is very important to me.’ – Theresa May, in her first speech as Prime Minister.

On 23 June eligible citizens of northeast Ireland – as subjects of imperialism’s ‘United Kingdom’ – were called upon to cast their vote in Britain’s referendum on EU membership. Many stayed at home. Of those who went to the polls, 56% voted to Remain. The Remainers had, however, expected a considerably larger margin of victory. Patrick Casey reports.

Turnout was lowest in nationalist areas – below 49% in West Belfast. The nationalist working class had nothing to gain from either outcome on offer. But the Catholic middle class did go to the polls – and they plumped for Remain. They know all too well that their hard won ‘security’ – read privilege – is anything but secure; their position in the sectarian statelet is always precarious. Any threat of instability horrifies them and they opted for the status quo. Sinn Fein’s support for a Remain vote was a reflection of this. Rule Britannia?

For Loyalism, the referendum was about deciding where its interests are best served – with British imperialism of course, but with a Britain inside the EU or ‘out’? Whilst the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) wavered – and a significant section of the Protestant middle class wavered with them – unionist voters overwhelmingly followed the lead of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and sided with the Eurosceptic wing of the British ruling class. Victims of their own jaundiced world outlook, they too harbour illusions that as world capitalism descends further into crisis Britain can somehow defend its interests as an independent imperialist power. As for mobilising the Loyalist working class behind an anti-EU vote, embracing the xenophobic racism of the Leave campaign required no rightward shift – their supremacist ideology was already in perfect harmony with the politics of Brexit.

On the other side of the border, the Free State bourgeoisie, confined to shouting from the side-lines, looked on anxiously. They were desperate for a Remain victory. Keeping Britain inside the EU was seen as crucial to stabilising Irish capitalism. In the course of the campaign, Taoiseach Enda Kenny pleaded with Irish citizens in Britain and the north of Ireland to vote against Brexit.

Border poll – castle in the air

After the vote, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness lost no time in calling for a border poll on Irish unity. The British government and Northern Ireland First Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, were just as quick to dismiss such a fancy out of hand. Nevertheless, it garnered a fair amount of media attention for a while – as intended.

However, the prospect of a future border poll was to be floated again, this time from more unlikely quarters – both Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin raised the issue in July. The Irish bourgeoisie seeks to ensure its interests are protected within a new UK-EU treaty. It wants to preserve the UK-Ireland Common Travel Area and Irish exemption from the Schengen Zone whilst securing special arrangements for UK-Irish trade. They have sheepishly played the border poll bluff: ‘please give us what we want . . . or the Peace Process might get it!’ Foster told them such comments were ‘unhelpful’ and promoted ‘instability’ – she suggested they keep their traps shut in future. Martin backtracked. Kenny may keep his voice down for the time being.

Provision for a border poll is a vagary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – a helping hand for Sinn Fein in selling a deal with imperialism to its support base. Far from seeing the removal of partition, we can expect quite the opposite – a border that will become increasingly visible while Sinn Fein has to grin and bear it.

Tax breaks broken

In March last year, Westminster agreed to devolve powers to set a regional corporation tax rate (effective from April 2017) to the Northern Ireland Assembly. In the wake of the referendum result and prior to receiving his marching orders, George Osborne unveiled his five-point ‘Brexit recovery plan’. The same British chancellor who had previously criticised Irish tax practices was now to create his very own ‘super-competitive economy’ by cutting corporation tax from 20% to below 15%. Cutting corporation tax has long been the centrepiece of plans to ‘rebalance’ the Six County economy – a reactionary pipedream whereby low taxes attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and boost private sector employment, thus offsetting huge public sector redundancies. The Northern Ireland Executive had planned to reduce corporation tax to 12.5% by Spring 2018. Osborne’s plan would intensify British competition for FDI with Dublin and – in the words of the Northern Ireland Finance Minister – puts a horse and carriage through Stormont's economic policy. Osborne’s replacement, Philip Hammond, is yet to say whether he will push ahead with the cut.

Imperialism is racism

Whilst sections of the British media reported a spike in ‘hate crime’ following the referendum result, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) claimed reports of such incidents in their jurisdiction had actually fallen. The fact is that racist attacks have always been high in the sectarian statelet, where the ‘peace’ years have seen systematic Loyalist assaults on Catholics and other minorities; attacks that – by the PSNI’s own reluctant admission – ‘leave the unpleasant taste of ethnic cleansing’. And they should know. Loyalism is racism – and these racists have guns.

The reverberations of Britain’s decision to leave the EU continue to be felt across Ireland. British imperialism is in crisis. A revolutionary national movement in Ireland could sharpen such a crisis and use it to the advantage of the working class. At present such a movement does not exist. It must be built.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 252 August/September 2016

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed