Irish unity becomes Brexit’s logical conclusion

Irish Unity: Time to Prepare by Ben Collins, Luath Press, £14.99.

Reviewed by Kevin Meagher.

Of course, it is always comforting to learn that you are not going mad and that others share the same opinion. Having written my own book explaining why I think the reunification of the island of Ireland is inevitable (A United Ireland: Why Unification is inevitable and how it will come about), I am delighted to find myself now part of a burgeoning sub-genre; and a welcome new addition comes in the form of Irish Unity: Time to Prepare, by Ben Collins. 

You will notice there is no question mark at the end of the title. This is not a book pondering whether it is time to start preparing for constitutional change on the island of Ireland; it is a declaration that we should be getting ready for it.

It is a welcome contribution for two reasons. First, this is a very good book. Collins has unavoidable novelty, given he comes from a Protestant-Unionist background, was briefly a member of the Ulster Unionist and Conservative parties, and, so, is not supposed to find himself making an argument like this. But make it he does, eloquently and constructively, remaking early on that Irish unity is, quite simply, ‘an idea whose time has come.’

But Collins is something else, too: a political professional, for want of a better description; a lobbyist who reads the political game shrewdly and, so, the argument he sets out is hard-headed and practical. 

It boils down to this: Brexit has opened a ‘Pandora’s Box’ and the ‘destabilising’ effects on Northern Ireland of the UK quitting the EU have ramifications for the constitution and economy alike. Increased talk of Irish unity is merely the ‘logical conclusion’ of that act of national self-harm and we can expect ‘rapid change’ in the next few years as a result.

Collins usefully reminds the reader that Northern Ireland was yanked out of the EU despite a clear majority of its inhabitants opting to remain. He argues that the response should be ‘NIREXIT from BREXIT.’ Indeed, he predicts that the UK will eventually tilt back towards Europe ‘when the full disaster of Brexit can no longer be ignored,’ but that it is likely to do so sans Scotland, Northern Ireland ‘and possibly even Wales.’

He makes the perceptive point that a government that is embroiled in exhaustive post-Brexit wrangling with the EU and fending off demands for Scottish independence ‘is unlikely to have the resources or energy to resist Irish reunification.’ The cumulative effect of two constitutional fires burning within the British state – with Brexit serving as an accelerant poured over dry tinder – may prove impossible for Westminster to extinguish.

Making sense of all this are moderate unionists, or ‘post-unionists’ as he calls them. They are now giving ‘serious contemplation’ to Irish unity ‘as a vehicle to regain full membership of the EU.’ Collins speaks to a silent constituency of perfectly reasonable people from the same background as himself. 

The Protestant farmer that has lost agricultural payments, or the unionist business owner whose small engineering company is part of a wider European supply chain are persuadable about the future. Realists are generally pragmatic and people like this will make a calculation about what is best for them and their families and what they can live with, rather than automatically adopting the fixed-in-the-past positions of their forefathers.

They will be decisive in deciding when, and in what circumstances, Northern Ireland votes itself out of existence. What might tip the balance is the invisible supplementary on any ballot paper: If you vote for Irish unity, you also vote for re-entry to the European Union.

Liberal Protestants recognise all too well that, from Westminster’s perspective, Northern Ireland is regarded as a ‘slightly embarrassing and truculent stepson’ inherited after a messy divorce. Not helped, Collins argues, by the Pavlovian instincts of political Unionism, where co-operation and pragmatism ‘do not come easily.’ 

He holds the DUP culpable for their current difficulties, having ‘actively campaigned’ for Brexit and while believing that there is ‘nothing inherently wrong’ with believing in the UK, there is a significant section of paleo-unionists that simply ‘believe[s] in supremacism’ over Irish nationalists and are thus incapable of confecting a convincing argument to retain the constitutional status quo.

Yet there is still some hard pedalling for those who want a united Ireland. There needs to be an ‘agreed approach,’ avoiding the ‘hideous’ lack of planning that characterised Brexit. ‘The unity campaign needs to emphasise that people on the island of Ireland have more in common than not,’ he says. ‘We do not share commonalities with the 70-year-olds in Sunderland who voted Leave to finally defeat the Germans.’

In terms of rolling the pitch, Collins argues that the Irish government needs to publish a green paper on the practicalities of unifying the island (much more likely if Sinn Fein forms part of the next Irish government). There also needs to be a series of sector-led groupings, exploring how issues like housing, health and agriculture can be successfully integrated between the two jurisdictions, creating a ‘New Ireland’ in the process. 

This, then, is how Northern Ireland will end. Not by soaring rhetoric, or armed struggle, but by the rash miscalculation of Brexiteers and the advocacy of a better, workable alternative. 



Comments (15)

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  1. Dougie Strang says:

    Thanks for this Kevin. A good review and a growing sense that, post-Brexit, and with the Republic having shaken off the Church’s influence on its politics, Irish unity seems the sensible option, whatever your background.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Dougie Strang, indeed, studying politics decades ago, I seem to remember being told that the Irish government’s submission to papal authority was never going to be accepted by a majority in Northern Ireland in any foreseeable future. I believe there was some movement towards secularisation in the Republic during the 1970s, but has it gone far enough? Considering the never-ending revelations of the appalling crimes of both Irish Catholic and Anglican churches, their followers seem in great majority there, so could these organisations make a comeback/gain significant political power in a future United Ireland?

  2. jim ferguson says:

    Here in Scotland too we should be preparing the ground for a Scottish currency and a Sate National Bank for Scotland: for the Scottish Government to take democratic control of so called ‘Crown Estates’. We should be preparing to become a real democracy. Britain has no real historical purpose outwith the servicing of casino capitalism: unless we in Scotland want to continue in a glaikit trance, in thrall to the theatre of financiers who comprise the City of London, we should also be looking seriously at practical steps to put Britain to sleep and establish an independent Scottish republic. Why are we not doing so? Or have I missed something?

  3. Rob McQuiston says:

    This is a convincing and well-thought-out analysis of the situation facing Northern Ireland post-Brexit. An interesting variation on the theme forms the basis of the counter-factual narrative by Robert Whitford in ‘The Flight of the Gaels’, published last year. Here, the remain-leaning nations of the UK come together to re-join the EU in a federation between a United Ireland and an independent Scotland. The federal parliament is located at Stormont!

  4. Tom Ultuous says:

    I’ve been posting this on MSN in support of the Scottish cause and, while the north of Ireland doesn’t have our natural resources, it’s still relevant to them.

    Feb 2023
    Ireland’s national debt now stands at 44,000 euro per person in the country.
    UK’s national debt now stands at 50,279 euro per person in the country (lookup nationaldebtclock).
    The poorest Irish have a standard of living almost 63% higher than the poorest in the UK. (Financial Times).
    Consider the wealth of natural resources Scotland has compared to Ireland. Oil, massive wind/wave energy potential, whisky and much larger fishing waters.
    Question: So how come the Irish are much better off than the Scots?
    Answer: They’re not a colony of the UK.
    All of the above is easily checked with single line browser searches yet the collaborators in Scotland refuse to believe anything that does not emanate from their colonial masters.

    And the full FT article
    [The poorest Irish have a standard of living almost 63% higher than the poorest in the UK.
    Starting at the top of the ladder, Britons enjoy very high living standards by virtually any benchmark. Last year the top-earning 3 per cent of UK households each took home about £84,000 after tax, equivalent to $125,000 after adjusting for price differences between countries. This puts Britain’s highest earners narrowly behind the wealthiest Germans and Norwegians and comfortably among the global elite.
    So what happens when we move down the rungs? For Norway, it’s a consistently rosy picture. The top 10 per cent rank second for living standards among the top deciles in all countries; the median Norwegian household ranks second among all national averages, and all the way down at the other end, Norway’s poorest 5 per cent are the most prosperous bottom 5 per cent in the world. Norway is a good place to live, whether you are rich or poor.
    Britain is a different story. While the top earners rank fifth, the average household ranks 12th and the poorest 5 per cent rank 15th. Far from simply losing touch with their western European peers, last year the lowest-earning bracket of British households had a standard of living that was 20 per cent weaker than their counterparts in Slovenia.]

    1. John Learmonth says:


      Based on your figures you would expect the UK to be suffering from net emigration as people would be leaving for higher paid work abroad (as happened in the 1970’s) instead we have net (legal) immigration of 400,000 per year.
      Could these huge numbers of (mainly) low income earners coming in to the country have anything to do with our lower living standards?

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        The ROI net migration rate is only just below the UK’s John, so I doubt it’s a significant factor. It’s not just the ROI the UK is doing badly against.

        An analysis in the Financial Times in 2022 found that “On present trends, the average Slovenian household will be better off than its British counterpart by 2024, and the average Polish family will move ahead before the end of the decade.” Essentially, the analysis concluded, income inequality in the US and UK is so enormous that the two nations should be classed as poor countries with some very rich people. Most of whom seem to be in the government. The average German & French household is £9K+ a year better off (it’s probably more like 12K now)
        than the average UK household. That’s what can be achieved when a country is run for the benefit of its citizens as opposed to the few.

        Also look up ‘theatlantic – How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe’.

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Hi Tom,
          That’s fine, I’m free to emigrate.
          However I wonder if the people of Poland or Slovakia would be so welcoming as we are to them?
          Just a thought.
          All the best

  5. florian albert says:

    Kevin Meagher pins his hopes, for Irish unity, on Protestant/unionist voters coming to favour Irish re-unification.
    In December 2022, the IrishTimes/IPSOS conducted a poll on attitudes to re-unification.
    It found that, in Northern Ireland, 79% of Protestants would vote for the status quo; only 4% would vote for re-unification,
    Among Catholics, 21% would vote the status quo and 55% would vote for re-unification.
    The big question for voters was the effects of unity on the economy and on health care.

    Northern Ireland probably will end, but not anytime soon.

    The ’70 year olds in Sunderland’, who voted Leave are more likely to have done so as a protest against their abandonment by the Labour Party than by a desire ‘to finally defeat the Germans’ as Ben Collins suggests.

    1. eamon odoherty says:

      The voters in Sunderland are racist, full stop!!!!!!!!!!!! Where have you been for the last 10 years??????????

      Dr. O’Doherty

  6. William Davison says:

    There have been a succession of these books since the 2016 vote and, no doubt, there will be many more. When Scottish nationalist politicians are asked where they would find the cash to replace Scotland’s Barnett subvention, they never seem to come up with a convincing reply. I would ask the same question in relation to Northern Ireland’s current £15 billion Barnett bung, where would the cash come from in the event of a United Ireland? When southern Irish citizens are asked if they would be prepared to pay higher taxes to achieve a unitary state, support for the concept falls considerably. They may want a UI, but they don’t want to pay for it.
    As a northern Irish erstwhile unionist I am promised that certain guarantees will be made to me re my position in a future UI. Forgive me if, based on my recent experience, I am somewhat sceptical about these guarantees. I voted for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and have had to sit and watch as all the rights I thought were guaranteed to me in that agreement have been removed, the principle of consent “disapplied,” the very foundational ethos of the agreement demolished. It’s not just me saying this, the late lord (David) Trimble, one of the co-architects of the GFA shared this opinion. I guess Brexit provided an opportunity which was just too good to miss, bin the GFA and all that guff about equality, equilibrium and parity of esteem, and replace it with a Protocol which is almost comically biased in favour of the aims and ethos of nationalism and completely inimical to the aims and ethos of unionism. No unionist is going to go into an Assembly/Executive to participate in the funeral rite of their own tradition. The pre-1972 situation would be restored, in reverse this time, with nationalists in a dominant position and unionists in a subordinate one. My only interest is in the restoration of my full and equal citizenship of the UK, not in listening to arguments for a UI, especially if delivered by people like Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. You shouldn’t have scraped the GFA lads.

    1. BSA says:

      Barnett and the Bunker seem to be all you have left.

      1. William Davison says:

        Nothing to say about adhering to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, a treaty we were told was “enshrined in international law.” Of course, when it suits a particular political purpose international law can easily be overthrown.

    2. Tom Ultuous says:

      The 15 billion Barnett “bung” is a myth in Scotland’s case. Why would Scotland require a similar bung as NI, Wales or any English region for that matter out with London & the South East? Did you read my post above?

      Scotland doesn’t receive much more per head than NI, Wales or most regions of England so why do we get this incessant argument we are “funded by the English taxpayers”? Westminster would have us believe we’re all being subsidised by their beloved London and the South-East but, if that’s true, you wonder why they risked the financial sector to get Brexit.
      Anyway, suppose all UK regions became independent (including the 9 English regions). You’re asked to list from 1 to 13 which region would be the best to live in financially. Given Scotland’s wealth of natural resources how could you fail to place them out of the top 3? Scotland is a net contributor to the UK despite Westminster’s efforts to turn us into a backwater as it’s done with much of England. The Westminster contribution to the Scottish GERS figures is a total fabrication.
      If you look up those ONS figures suggest all regions bar 3 are being “subsidised” by the same amount in proportion to their population. However, if you read about the difficulty they have compiling them you’ll see that the Scottish figures must inevitably be skewed. Many who work in the North Sea live in England and their tax contributions will go to that region. Also, the oil companies themselves will be paying taxes where their UK HQ’s are (London).

  7. Rudy Cornelis van der Meulen says:

    Kevin ,
    thank you .

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