Rees-Mogg’s attempt to drag Parnell into the Brexit debate was a squalid ploy to exploit anti-Irish sentiment in Britain and cling to power, writes Ryle Dwyer
THE effort by the leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg to drag Charles Stewart Parnell into the current Brexit debate was a squalid ploy to exploit anti-Irish sentiment in Britain. Nobody should be really surprised, because this whole Brexit affair is the result of a sordid Tory trick to retain power.
In 2016 then prime minister David Cameron called the referendum as a trick to upstage the Labour Party. The polls were indicating that the British people favoured membership of the EU, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was believed to be distinctly cool on the idea.
By calling the referendum, Cameron was confident the people would support membership of the EU and thus undermine Corbyn, but it all went horribly wrong. The Tory leadership are now trying to pose as great democrats by enforcing the so-called will of the people, but the party is obviously split.
What the people were arguably saying in the first referendum was not that Britain should get out of the European Union, but that the British people were not going to fall for a Tory ploy. Ironically, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now advocating opening the door to another referendum in which the people could decide if the current form of Brexit is what they really desired.
Cameron made a fool of himself by calling the first referendum when he did. Where is he now? He was unceremoniously dumped on the scrapheap of history. But look at what is now replacing him.
Most recently is Boris Johnson, who has been referred to as “BoJo”, which seems particularly apt, because he is a political clown.
The whole thing has become a sordid game that could go horribly wrong.
The Conservative Party is harking back to the past, evoking the spirit of Dunkirk, when Britain rallied in the face of a largely fascist Europe. But the parallels are really absurd.
Evoking Churchillian language in the House of Commons yesterday, prime minister Boris Johnson — who greatly admires the former holder of his office — described the bill that would make a no-deal Brexit illegal as the ‘surrender bill’. Jeremy Corbyn had to remind the prime minister that the UK is not at war with the EU and is merely seeking to agree terms.
In the House of Commons the previous night, during a tetchy Brexit debate, Rees-Mogg said: “The approach taken today is the most unconstitutional use of this House since the days of Charles Stewart Parnell, when he tried to bung up parliament.”
The particular filibuster Rees-Mogg refers to is that employed by Parnell in 1881 when he and his fellow members of the Irish Parliamentary Party forced the Commons to sit for 45 hours in order to obstruct a coercion bill.
At the time the term “filibuster” was used only by American newspapers to describe the Irish tactic.
Parnell’s small party filibustered bills by talking for hours at a time until it left their fellow MPs utterly exasperated.
At the time, the British press was not amused. “The Irish members continued their filibustering tactics throughout Tuesday night, two of them occupying more than four hours and a half in… their speeches,” the
Bristol Mercury concluded.
The Western Mail described it as a “degrading spectacle”.
Degrading or not, it was effective, forcing British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone to support Home Rule, the dominant political movement of Irish nationalism from 1870 to the end of the First World War.
Renowned for his parliamentary performances, a bust of Parnell remains in place in Westminster, an edifice that Rees-Mogg and his fellow parliamentarians have to pass when they attend debates in the House of Commons.
Parnell’s ways may have been innovative in the United Kingdom of the day, but they were strictly constitutional.
This made the Rees-Mogg reference to him all the more inappropriate in current circumstances because the Conservative leaders were trying to prorogue parliament in order to get their way. That was an affront not only to the parliament itself but to British democracy in general.
Perhaps instead of wondering why Rees-Mogg is blaming the Irish again, we should be asking where Ireland’s voice is in all of this?
The Democratic Unionists are effectively speaking for all of Ireland in the House of Commons due to Sinn Féin’s abstentionist polices. Sinn Féin seems to think that it will be able to gain politically if Britain crashes out of the EU and the economy of the North suffers as a result. There would undoubtedly be public discontent on all sides, but could this be Sinn Féin’s road to power and a united Ireland?
Remember the majority in the North voted against leaving the EU in the first referendum. The British had insisted, before implementing the Good Friday Agreement, that this country had to accept that there could be no change in the status of the North without the formal approval of a majority of the people of the North in a popular vote.
That was written into British law, and the people of the Republic endorsed it overwhelmingly in a constitutional referendum.
The whole thing was clearly designed to protect the rights of the Unionists to remain within the UK. But it should now apply, as well, to the rights of all the people of the North to remain within the EU, until the majority decides otherwise in a referendum.
Sinn Féin seems to think it can exploit this. It accepted that the majority in the North had the right to remain in the UK, but it has really been undermining on the idea ever since.
Sinn Féin has seven seats in the House of Commons, but it has been refusing to take those seats, a patent affront to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. It could and should be demonstrating that it is a democratic party, but instead Sinn Féin is just posturing like the Tories.
All this sordid posturing by the Conservatives and Sinn Féin must stop. It’s time to get back to the business of politics, maybe even taking a leaf from Parnell himself.