Brexit and the echoes of history


Sir, – Brexit has surfaced a number of historical analogies of varying utility. From the dissolution of the monasteries, to the Corn Laws and appeasement, they illustrate an English instinct for “splendid isolation”.

When Jacob Rees-Mogg described the withdrawal agreement as “the greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Philip II at Le Goulet”, people didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

For the season that’s in it, I thought of one more that might provide some comfort for those who are anxious to see the withdrawal agreement get through Westminster on the week of January 14th, 2019.

On December 6th, 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in London. This was followed by the famous Treaty debates in the Second Dáil. The debate was adjourned on December 22nd and resumed on January 3rd, 1922. On January 7th, the Treaty was ratified by the Dáil with 64 votes in favour, 57 against and three abstentions.

Many historians have suggested that there was a notable change in approach after Christmas as citizens had pressed their TDs to avoid a resumption of war at all costs.

One member of the Dáil resigned his seat rather than comply with the pressure being put on him by his constituents, and two more admitted that “if the vote had been taken before Christmas, they would have voted against the Treaty, but they had decided, because of local pressure over the recess, to vote in favour”.

A large section of the public viewed Éamon de Valera’s document number 2 (a sort of Canada-plus) as not sufficiently different from the agreed terms to justify rejection.

In effect, getting out of the “bubble” of the Treaty debates in Dublin and being confronted with a widespread public anxiety to get on with their lives, the recess had had sufficient effect to ensure a narrow margin of victory for the pro-Treaty side.

While an Ipsos poll published on December 7th suggests that 62 per cent of Britons think the withdrawal agreement is bad for the UK, there is no even slightly dominant view about what is better.

Theresa May clearly hopes that the “immediate and terrible” consequences of no-deal will bear heavily enough on the British people and their representatives to get the agreement through Westminster.

It will be interesting to see if the bitter-enders are as full of passionate intensity following a period of reflection with friends and family over the next week or so. – Yours, etc,


Director General,


of International

and European Affairs,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – John Thompson (Letters, December 27th) writes that: “All that hard-line Tory Brexiteers have to do in order to have their goal of a no-deal Brexit realised is withhold their support for anything else.”

Not necessarily.

Such a stonewalling tactic could backfire. There is almost certainly a majority of MPs in the House of Commons who, in their heart of hearts, do not believe that Brexit is in the national interest, but who feel, against their better judgment, that they must cleave to the party line and/or “respect” the referendum result.

However, faced with no other option than a cliff-edge Brexit, it is possible that a private member’s motion demanding the withdrawal of article 50 would get majority support.

It is a long shot, but by no means impossible in the present quasi-insane state of UK politics. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – During the coming year, important events due to occur in the UK include Brexit and the launch of the environmental research vessel the RRS Sir David Attenborough. The latter vessel was named following a poll of the opinions of the great British public. The popular choice, however, was “Boaty McBoatface”, with less than 3 per cent choosing “David Attenborough”.

Sensible minds prevailed, though, as it was widely accepted that public opinion in this case was, in essence, bloody stupid and best ignored. Perhaps the same realisation can still occur regarding the Brexit decision.

After all, the boat only cost the UK about £150 million. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.