Brexiters evoking Irelands civil war should be careful what they wish for | Fintan OToole
Prominent leavers such as Owen Paterson are wrong to look to Irelands troubled past for inspiration, says Irish Times columnist Fintan OToole
It is of course impossible to identify the weirdest aspect of Brexit. But up there somewhere has to be the desire of some of the hard Brexiters to think of England as Ireland specifically the Irish Free State of the 1920s and 1930s. That state was formed out of a political and military uprising against Britain, led by Sinn Fin and the Irish Republican Army. Members of the Conservative and Unionist party are not supposed to be in favour of that sort of thing. But some like to imagine themselves as leaders of a national revolt by a plucky underdog against the imperial might of the European Union. In this bizarre exercise, Michael Collins and amon de Valera become role models for the country they fought against.
Owen Paterson, a former secretary of state for Northern Ireland and an ardent Brexiter, recently cited Collins when explaining to the House of Commons why he would support Boris Johnsons revised withdrawal agreement, even though he was not happy with it. Collins, the effective leader of the IRA at the time, negotiated the compromise treaty with the British in 1921 that settled for an Irish Free State rather than a full republic. Paterson quoted his speech to the Dil in support of the treaty: Now as one of the signatories of the document I naturally recommend its acceptance. I do not recommend it for more than it is. Equally I do not recommend it for less than it is. In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it.
Paterson added that Johnsons compromise begins the process of establishing our full freedom, and I hope that I do not suffer the same fate as Michael Collins in wanting to see that delivered. Collins was killed in an ambush during the civil war that followed the split in the IRA over the treaty. The logic of Patersons analogy is that he risks the same fate at the hands of his colleagues in Brexits army of liberation perhaps with Mark Francois as Collinss eventual nemesis, De Valera.