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From the Commons to 'little England', Brexit has put the Irish border firmly on the UK map

Some history classes may be required across the water.

Brexit Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Council President Donald Tusk Source: Laura Hutton/PA Images

IT’S BEEN A strange week in the increasingly fraught and occasionally maddening world of Brexit.

What’s set this week apart has been the apparent realisation in the UK that Ireland is indeed part of their Brexit world.

The border issue has been a major sticking point in negotiations for some time, but after a reported deal on Britain’s divorce bill it’s now the sticking point.

Even if Conservative politicians insisted as far as two years back that border wouldn’t even be a problem.

Without going into the details of why, it’s clear that the British government is keen to keep Brexit moving. The problem is that progress needs to be made on other issues before they can move on.

But the Irish government doesn’t think sufficient (or any?) movement has been made on what the border will look like and it doesn’t want to move onto other issues until there is.

The EU’s other 26 members are standing behind Ireland.

That’s where we are and that’s why Brexiteers and some in the British media are blaming Ireland for stalling talks.

There have been claims that Ireland has threatened to ‘veto’ the talks moving on, even though no such direct threat has been made. Besides, it’s not likely any ‘veto’ would even be required with the EU on Ireland’s side anyway.

There’s been more than that though. In blaming Ireland for the current Brexit difficulties, some British politicians and commentators have been enraging Irish people with their interpretations of Irish history – interpretations that have been, at best, questionable (and at worst, provocative).

The takes came thick and fast, like this one from the Telegraph:

PastedImage-1840 Source: Telegraph.co.uk

The editorial argued that Ireland and the EU’s steadfastness on the border was not about protecting the Good Friday Agreement but more about “a crude negotiating tactic in the Brexit talks”.

“That this performance is dressed up as some crusade to protect the peace process is particularly tasteless,” the article argued.

The many people, the tone of the article epitomised the disconnect that exists between what the border means to some politicians in Britain and to what it means to those affected by it every day.

Even Irish people who don’t have to routinely cross the border were angered about how its historical significance was carelessly dismissed by a major UK newspaper.

Things then went from insensitive to positively Trumpian when Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey said that any customs border on the island of Ireland would have to be paid for by the Republic.

It didn’t end there though and Ireland’s government coming to the brink of collapse early in the week offered a chance for British politicians to frame Dublin’s stance on the border as posturing.

And in a demonstration of just how central Ireland had become to the UK’s news, the decision by Frances Fitzgerald to step down as Tánaiste was a big story all across news websites across the water.

While British politicians talking about Irish history may have been the most maddening thing to happen, perhaps the most memorable example was when Channel 4 took to the streets of London to ask people where the Irish border was.

The results weren’t exactly stellar – with and one woman telling the reporter “the southern Irish have to lump it” likely to go down as the quintessential ‘little Englander’ take on Ireland.

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

If all this is somewhat of a diversion, a high roller flew into Dublin yesterday to greatly raise the stakes and likely annoy many of those aforementioned little Englanders.

European Council President Donald Tusk met with Leo Varadkar and left Britain with little doubt that it’s firmly by itself if it can’t come up with a solution to the border.

The Taoiseach has been clear that it’s the UK’s job to come up with a border solution if it wants to exit the customs union and Tusk basically endorsed this last night.

“If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable to Europe,” Tusk said, ramping up the hype for a meeting in Brussels in a fortnight’s time.

At that meeting of EU leaders a decision will be made on whether the talks can proceed. It now basically means that if Ireland isn’t happy then Brexit moves no closer.

Let’s see how that goes down across the water.

Read: Department ‘absolutely refutes’ claim that Irish officials were told to ignore Boris Johnson >

Read: Ian Paisley Jr: ‘We’re leaving the EU and Ireland would be better off leaving with us’ >

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Rónán Duffy

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