Fintan O’Toole: John Bull, not Michel Barnier, is undermining the union

When it’s all over, what will be left for Northern Ireland to be united with?

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, earlier this week: the image of the “blood red line” was not in good taste, but it was revealing. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, earlier this week: the image of the “blood red line” was not in good taste, but it was revealing. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Arlene Foster spoke this week about the DUP’s “blood red line” of avoiding any post-Brexit differences between Northern Ireland and Britain. The image was not in good taste, but it was revealing. When politicians resort to such overheated rhetoric, it is usually because they know deep down that they are protesting too much.

To really understand the hysteria about “the territorial integrity of the union”, we have to understand that it is not about what it seems to be about. Beneath the surface of anxiety about the EU’s Brexit proposals is a deep pool of panic about the union itself. For even the DUP must know that the blood red line of Britishness is now a thin red line. It has been worn away, not by the EU, but by the English. The union is being undermined, not by Michel Barnier, but by John Bull.

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