The Big Con – a repeating pattern

What is being done in Ireland with Brexit by the English Establishment reminds me of that great film, The Sting in 1973. The operating principles in a political sting are no different from a straight forward financial sting. Watch the film and you’ll see the principles at work.

A few months ago I wrote a piece – The Matrix and the Story-tellers – about how the Good Friday Agreement was made possible because the opposing unionist and nationalist camps  switched their positions on devolution within the UK.

With Brexit this sting is being run again and yet again both sides are falling for it because either they didn’t realise they’d been conned before or don’t want to admit they fell for it – even to themselves.

The Sting 1973

Sting #1

With the GFA, through clever story telling, each side was conned  into supporting a proposition that was detrimental to their interests and advantageous to their opponents. Each side – unionism and nationalism – took up positions on their opponents’ territory. Without this switch the end result would never have been realised.

The Sting 1973

Now with the benefit of hindsight we can see that the GFA was unionism’s last chance to have a local devolved administration within the union with Britain. However they were conned into being deeply suspicious of what was actually to their manifest advantage because they were told it gave government positions to ‘terrorists’. So they objected and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into it.  Then in time they came to embrace it wholeheartedly. However another sting – the RHI scandal – has destroyed devolution and now – too late – Unionists see that it was to their advantage all along and are desperate to get back into the institutions they at one time despised.

Likewise republicanism was persuaded that because unionists initially hated the GFA, it must be a good thing for nationalism. In fact the story said it was victory for Irish nationalists. The unionist dragon was tamed. After all it gave nationalism equality in the north and a seat at the table of government as of right. Something republicans/ nationalists had never had before. So they embraced it from the beginning and operated the structures of British power in the north of Ireland diligently. Only much later did they realise that they had become trapped within the union, cut off from unity with the rest of the island, with Unionists having an ongoing veto on future change.

Bizarrely it was their unionist partners – the DUP – who rescued Sinn Fein and got them off the hook when Stormont collapsed two years ago through the RHI scandal.

The Sting 1973

Sting #2

So how is this further con being repeated with Brexit?

It’s impossible to predict just how Brexit will pan out for Northern Ireland. Only time will tell. But here’s the most probable scenario.

The north will remain within the Customs Union with a border down the Irish sea. This will avoid the dreaded ‘hard border’.  However the border down the Irish Sea will still facilitate trade with Britain from NI. NI will have the ‘best of both worlds’ we are told and to some extent that’s true. It all depends which end of the telescope you’re looking through.

The ‘hard border’ is the ‘hook’ in the ‘sting’ to draw in the ‘marks’ (the patsies) and con them.

The story goes that nobody wants a ‘hard border‘ and everybody is afraid of the prospect. Even though it’s not certain that it was ever a real prospect and would ever have been necessary. A manufactured fear of the imaginary ‘hard border’ has taken hold and allowed the sting to be applied.

In reality Northern Ireland remaining in the Customs Union will bring commercial success to the region. There is the distinct possibility that the north will become a mini Hong Kong – a trading area that enables trade with both the European Union and the United Kingdom without the usual obstacles. Investment will flood in and with it jobs and with the jobs will come people, many from Britain, America and the EU.

What this arrangement will do to wealth inequality and local autonomy is quite another thing that I won’t go into here.

However the DUP are opposed to this scenario of remaining in the Customs Union for the simple reason – so the story goes – it sets NI out as different from the rest of the UK and closer to the Irish Republic. In addition they have never liked the EU.

Sinn Fein – along with the rest of mainstream Irish nationalism, including the Irish government – are in support of continuing membership of the Customs Union for the north because they have been persuaded to believe it aligns the region more closely with the south and marks it out as different from Britain.

As ever, the long term prejudices of both unionism and nationalism have trapped them into these opposing positions.

So now both ‘marks‘ are in place for the sting to operate.

Paul Newman in The Sting 1973

As I have said investment will flood in and with it people, mainly from Britain, the EU and the US working for global corporations eager to take advantage of the favourable trading arrangements with the EU, the US and the UK.

Demographic change – but not as predicted

There is the potential over time for this influx of people to change both the political and economic demographics in such a small place as Northern Ireland.

For some time NI has been the sick region of both the UK and Ireland. It long ago ceased to be the industrial powerhouse it was when Ireland was partitioned. Along with the collapse of Stormont and the apparent economic success of the Republic, this has fueled talk of a united Ireland.

All that could change if NI became this ‘Hong Kong of the north’. The argument for NI to be fully integrated with the south will be harder to make if the north is successful economically and risks losing its special status – unless ( and here’s part of the sting) the whole island assumes a ‘Hong Kong’ status and with it acquires a special relationship with Britain that nationalism may find distasteful.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting 1973

On the other hand resistance to an all-island deal could become even stronger in the north. They – both middle class Protestants and Catholics – may become very fond of their special status and see no need to change. This view may be reinforced by a powerful international lobby and by the many new residents who have come in to operate the new enterprises. They will have no historic baggage with orange and green. They will follow the money and their pay packets.

This scenario is effectively a second Plantation of Ulster.

The bottom-line in all this is that Britain maintains her hold on Ireland and her presence in the north – just as with the first Plantation. This one is kindly facilitated by Irish nationalism’s support and opposed by unionism – as was the case with the Good Friday Agreement.

The sting would never work if the roles were reversed with unionism supporting a Customs Union and nationalism opposing it, because then the end result – Britain effectively strengthening her position in the north – would be exposed for all to see because it would be trumpeted by unionism.

Pure genius – like in the film.

Paul Newman in The Sting 1973




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