British identity and Brexit


Sir, – The history of the relationship between the Ulster plantation and British identity is rather more complicated than Dr Mark Hutchinson suggests (“Brexit reveals how hollow notion of British nation is”, Opinion & Analysis, December 5th). It may be going a little too far to suggest, as he does, that a British identity took shape in the Ulster Plantation. I am aware of a number of references to “the British” encompassing both English and Scots from the 1620s and 1630s but it is questionable whether even then that constituted even an embryonic common identity. By the time of the Scottish rebellion of the late 1630s and the 1641 Rising in Ireland, religious and political tensions between the two nationalities were apparent. Those tensions were aggravated by Scots opposition to the execution of Charles I and war between the two nations. Use of the word British to mean Scots and English together seems to have died out in the 1650s, if not earlier.

The one reference to the British in an Irish context from the 1660s ( that is, the early years of Charles II’s Restoration) that I have encountered to date comes from Fermanagh – then a county with a high level of English settlement and few or no Scots Presbyterians. It could be argued that a certain common Presbyterian-Anglican identity in Ulster began to emerge only with Unionism in the 19th century.

On a more recent matter, I would be interested to know who the DUP members are who, according to Dr Hutchinson, claim to be both Irish and British; some unionists may say that but I doubt if they belong to Mrs Foster’s party. – Yours, etc,