“We have the freedom to win freedom” was how Michael Collins sold the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 to tired and disappointed supporters.
One Brexiteer, the most intelligent and politically serious of them, Michael Gove, understands this. 1/
Collins’s guerilla war made most of Ireland ungovernable by the British, but it couldn’t force them out completely, nor force them to abandon the Unionists, concentrated in Northern Ireland who wanted to stay part of the Empire. 2/
The compromise negotiated: Dominion status (like Canada and Australia) for an “Irish Free State” covering most but not all of the island, with The Royal Navy in control of several “Treaty Ports” on Free State territory, a royal Governor General in the ex-viceregal lodge 3/
It fell far short of the Irish nationalists’ demands for full independence for the whole island. Purists would fight (and lose) a civil war later.
But Collins’s essential point stood: once out of the Union of 1801, Ireland was free to go its own way, step by step 4/
Gove’s acquiescence to the Chequers compromise reflects the fact that a form of Brexit needs to be found that will not be overturned by the 2017 parliament.
If something can be found that’s also acceptable to the EU (a big if, but another topic) the fight moves on 5/
The two possible outcomes of negotiations: Norway + CU and Canada + NI backstop won’t be stable.
Norway + CU looks dangerous for Brexiteers. Rejoining from that position would be relatively easy. 6/
But Canada + Backstop has its risks (the DUP; Scottish demands for a similar status)
Either is however preferable to no deal, which would bring the government down and have the Tory party indelibly branded with its consequences 7/
Gove is in a unique position. He can steer the Cabinet towards one of those two destinations.
One carries the risk of Brexit being completely reversed, but the chance of, bring able, step by step, to extricate the whole of Britain from the EU. 8/
The other makes rejoining much harder, but sets up a process the natural conclusion of which is England and Wales having a Canada type relationship with the EU, but Northern Ireland and Scotland ending up much closer. 9/
Not the end of the U.K. Union in principle, but the end of it as it’s been known since 1707. 10/
Both however fall short of the “United Kingdom, whole and free “ Brexit vision.
The Purists are mustering, and taking to the hills and lonely country roads, led by a tall man with manufactured identity (Rees Mogg = De Valera)
They’ll be weaker if Gove can steer the government towards Canada + Backstop. Stronger if it ends up at Norway + CU, even if Norway+CU is only a stop on the way to a more thorough Brexit 12/
The Moggite rebellion is helpful to him for now, because it shows how limited his room for manoeuvre is, yet there’ll come a time when it won’t be.
It’s 2018 not 1920 so the risks are political not literal, but Gove gambled on Friday.
Will he be luckier than Collins? ENDS
Bonus 1 for the analogy: Like Collins Gove might have to lose Ulster to succeed
Bonus 2: Now we know why it's called the 1922 committee