Few British people will read this book because they cherish the disdain towards Ireland that has caused successive Westminster governments to wreak havoc there. But if a resumption of the Troubles proves part of the price of Brexit, then we shall have only ourselves to blame. Andrew Bonar Law, then Conservative leader, said in 1920 that he had concluded that the Irish were “an inferior race”. When Law’s successors appear to embrace the same contempt for our neighbours, we should not be surprised if some of them revert to behaving contemptibly.
A backstop would keep the border open “unless and until” a future solution is agreed, but the DUP insists ominously on a “blood red” line against any special arrangement for Northern Ireland. Brexiters oppose the alternative UK-wide backstop designed by the government, blithely dismissing the border as a non-issue or promising alternatives based on “magical thinking”. Ferriter’s judicious book shows that such recklessness, such “contemptuous arrogance”, is nothing new, and that it has always been the ordinary people of Northern Ireland who have paid its price. They deserve better.
Ferriter also reminds us that, despite their irredentist posturing, the Irish were just as detached. It isn’t often that writing on Brexit and Ireland is so uniformly unsparing and devoid of lazy moralism. This is a rare pleasure... Brexit is an attack on that ambiguity. Over just 144 pages — thin enough to resemble the sort of anti-Brexit polemic to which it is such a welcome counterpoint — Ferriter shows us why this is unlikely to end well. Anyone who wishes to understand why Brexit is so intractable should read this book. I can think of several MPs who ought to.