Chickens come home to roost for the UK

Many of the conflicts around the world have their roots in the way that the British colonialists drew lines creating nations that divided people that had common identities and joined together in one nation groups that had tensions with each other. After the British left as a result of the decolonization process, these ethnic conflicts simmered and exploded. Robert Mackey says that the British did the same thing with Ireland and that is now biting them in the rear when it comes to Brexit.

Had English rulers never embarked on the centuries-long process of colonizing Ireland, or never imposed a partition on the island in 1921, to create a loyalist enclave where British Protestant settlers outnumbered the native Irish Catholics, it would today be a relatively simple matter for Britain, encompassing just England, Scotland, and Wales, to exit the EU.

Then there’s the problem that the winding, 300-mile-long frontier defined as the border of the new province of Northern Ireland by the British government in 1921 was in no sense a natural border. There is no mountain range or body of water dividing Ireland in two parts, there is just a line on the map, hastily drawn by retreating colonial civil servants — a strategy later termed “divide and quit” by Penderel Moon, a British colonial officer involved in the empire’s equally ill-conceived partition of India in 1947.

The 1921 partition line that created the new, British-controlled province of Northern Ireland, along ancient county borders that these days run through fields, towns and houses, was also drawn in the service of a blatant act of large-scale gerrymandering. It was a new line drawn on the world map to divide one island nation into two parts so that a retreating colonial power could ensure that the descendants of its settlers would control an enclave in which they would be in the majority.

That division gave rise to decades of political violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland and Britain, known with Ulster understatement as “the Troubles,” during which more than 3,500 people were killed, basic civil rights and due process were suspended, and the British Army erected watchtowers and checkpoints and destroyed hundreds of roads, bridges, and country lanes to control the flow of people and goods between the two parts of Ireland.

Mackey says that the British partitioning of Ireland and India was “ill-conceived”. I am not sure if by that word he meant that they did not foresee the negative consequences. This happened so many times that one has to think that the British were intentional, that it was all part of their divide and rule strategy.

While the US has created vast amounts of misery around the world with its wars, support of repressive governments, and neoliberal policies that have created so much inequality in the world, the British have to shoulder a lot of the blame for seeding multi-generational conflicts by the way that they drew national boundaries and fomented ethnic hostilities.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    that is now biting them in the rear when it comes to Brexit

    It does depend on your point of view. To my lefty Remainer eyes, the situation is delicious.

    You’ve missed out the best bit: if our Tory government weren’t so arrogant and incompetent, they’d have simply got on with leaving the EU and the border wouldn’t be *that* much of an issue. But last year, in a fit of hubris that cements her position as worst Prime Minister since Chamberlain, Theresa May called a general election in which she lost her parliamentary majority. She is now in power only thanks to the continued indulgence of the Ulster Unionist party. This bunch of creationist, anti-abortion morons -- all ten of them -- hold the balance of power in the UK, and absolutely will not countenance remaining in the EU, having a hard border in Northern Ireland, or having any kind of transitional deal that sees them treated as different to the UK in any way. In other words, they’re demanding a perfect circle with right angle at each corner. That our government needs to give two shits about what these people think is entirely May’s fault. It’s hilarious.

    Tip: don’t refer to it as “the Irish border”. It’s the British border IN Ireland. Irish people are very keen that that is understood. The Irish border is the beach.

  2. lanir says

    I thought just Brexit in general was chickens coming home to roost. The one thing I learned from Ayn Rand is that any group that stomps their foot and proclaims that they’re going now is the butt if a joke they’re perpetrating on themselves.

    The only real downside to it is all the relatively sane people who are being taken along for the ride.

  3. Jenora Feuer says

    For the UK drawing lines and causing problems, it’s hard to beat the British Mandate for Palestine.

    But yes, as you say, this has happened enough times that you’d think somebody would have noticed a pattern earlier.

  4. bmiller says


    As a proud citizen of the Empire Upon Which the Sun Never Sets, have you ever run across the AMAZING Phillip’s blog?

    “As was demonstrated in the assignment and corresponding casualty rates of African Americans in Vietnam, the infantry is where great democracies traditionally utilise their more dispensable citizens. Although Her Majesty’s Government has no particular interest in helping women protect themselves from harassment or violence, let alone in ensuring they receive proper reimbursement for the work they do, it is willing to permit them the privilege of dying for their country. Since 11 November is off limits for some reason, the post-pubescent Minister for Wog-Bombing took advantage of the Yuletidesque backward extension of the poppy season to show off a bit in front of the girls. During a St Crispin’s Day willy-waving ceremony, he proclaimed that female soldiers will soon be granted access to the full spectrum of military roles, from jailed PTSD sufferer through forgotten wounded to flag-draped body-bag full of best rabble-rousing rah-rah. It is certainly reassuring that the idea of gender equality has begun to obtrude itself upon the Conservative consciousness; it remains to be seen how many women in the non-dispensable classes will rush to volunteer.”

  5. Holms says

    “But yes, as you say, this has happened enough times that you’d think somebody would have noticed a pattern earlier.”
    Repeat for trickle-down economics, war and meddling for regime change, attempts to eliminate drugs…

  6. says

    … known with Ulster understatement as “the Troubles,”…

    Not wanting to brag or anything but given that we southern Irish referred to WWII (that we remained neutral during) as “The Emergency“, I think we can show those Nordies a thing or two about understatement. “Well of course it was a bloody emergency! Do you know what it did to the tea deliveries?!”

    sonofrojblake @ 1:

    She is now in power only thanks to the continued indulgence of the Ulster Unionist party. This bunch of creationist, anti-abortion morons – all ten of them – hold the balance of power in the UK

    I fear you’re getting the the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) mixed up with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). While both are creationist, anti-abortion and moronic, the latter are rapidly eclipsing the former because they’re not creationist, anti-abortion, and moronic enough for the unionist electorate in Northern Ireland at this point.

    I saw a quote once: “God gave the British an Empire on which the sun never set because He couldn’t trust them in the dark”. I don’t know who said it though.

  7. says

    sonofrojblake @ 7: Keeping the ideologies and allegiances of the list of 3- and 4-letter acronym groups operating in Northern Ireland straight in one’s head is no picnic, is it? It’s like trying to remember which version of meningitis will kill you outright versus which one will just leave you at death’s door.

    This is what Brexit has wrought: arseholes openly walking the streets of Northern Ireland dressed as the Ku Klux Klan. That’s the DUP’s endgame: out of the EU, the Good Friday Agreement scrapped, and the uppity taigs back in their ghettos, just like the good old days.

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