With the prospect of a no-deal Brexit becoming ever more likely under British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the remaining EU member state with most to lose — Ireland — is hardening its rhetoric.
Ireland has a land border with Britain that it wants to keep free-flowing after Brexit and it fears massive economic disruption if Britain crashes out of the EU.
Since Johnson took over last Wednesday, Irish leaders have warned his plans are unrealistic and could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and a united Ireland.
“The Irish government are responding to facts on the ground’ as they emerge, and the fact is that Boris Johnson’s current approach is leading to no deal,” said Jonathan Evershed, a politics researcher of University College Cork.
“I think everything the Irish government has said is a) true and b) an attempt to confront Johnson’s government — which has wilfully lost its grip on reality.”
Duncan Morrow, a politics professor at Ulster University, said: “Standing up to a ‘bullying’ approach by Britain is part of the DNA of Irish politics, so no Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) can be seen to fold simply because a U.K. premier raises his voice.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was the first to react to Johnson’s victory speech Wednesday, saying his stated goal of renegotiating the Brexit deal entirely by a deadline of Oct. 31 was “totally not in the real world.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Friday then warned that Johnson was putting Britain “on a collision course with the European Union.”
Varadkar also on Friday said Johnson was making the prospect of a unification of British Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland more likely.
“The Irish government appears to have concluded that the new government in London is not interested in finding a deal and is making it clear that they will not be conceding either,” Morrow said. “This remains a protracted game of chicken.”
Ireland has found itself at the center of the knot in Britain’s tangled bid to leave the European Union.
The withdrawal deal agreed under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, failed to pass through the British Parliament because of the inclusion of the so-called Irish backstop.
MPs believe the clause, designed to preserve the EU single market and prevent a hard border in Ireland, would endanger the union of Northern Ireland with Britain.
But on Friday Varadkar issued a warning that a no-deal may itself endanger the union, as citizens in the province look south in hope of remaining in the EU.
Following its interventions, the Irish government was accused by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of engaging in “megaphone diplomacy.”
“Language is being used which is unhelpful or unnecessarily aggressive,” said MP Ian Paisley — singling out Coveney’s remarks as “downright provocative and disrespectful.”
The pro-Brexit, anti-backstop DUP has an oversized voice in Westminster because its 10 MPs give the government its working majority in Parliament.
Experts warned the DUP’s influence, rather than any Irish government plans, could undo the union between Northern Ireland and Britain.
“There is a risk that the DUP will accelerate that which they most wish to prevent,” Morrow said.