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Who, in 1919, was to be Britain's enemy in its next war?  Well, it turned out to be Germany, but in 1919 the prediction of another Great War on Germany would have been absurd.

There were two potential enemies, the United States and France, and the most likely was the United States.  In an Anglo-American War an independent Ireland would certainly have been a menace to the British Empire.  But Britain had developed a disabling inferiority complex with regard to the USA, and at the Washington Naval Conference it submitted to US terms, the chief of which was that it should not renew its alliance with Japan by which its Asian Empire had been protected in 1914-18.

If France had gained the Peace Settlement it desired in 1919, it would have been restored to hegemonic authority in Europe, and would therefore have been restored to the status of Britain's Enemy No. 1 on the Balance-of-Power principle:  a position which it had held for two centuries before the formation of the German state.  But Britain ensured that it did not get the secure frontier with Germany that it desired, and that it was not allowed to free the 'good Germans' from the evil influence of Prussia;  and that Germany after being plundered and humiliated, was enabled to build itself up again, in breach of the conditions imposed on it by the Versailles Treaty;  and that under Hitler it could rearm at will.

Surely it would have been relevant to discuss this course of actual events in connection with the general British insistence that Ireland could not be let become independent, lest it should pose a naval or military threat to Britain?


Labour criticised the 1920 Government of Ireland Bill because it partitioned Ireland.  It did not take issue with it for establishing an enclave of undemocratic government, communal Protestant government, within the UK, in the Six Counties.  Nor does Gibbons say anything about this, though he can hardly be unaware of the 25 year war to which it led.  He describes the 6 Counties as a state on one page, and describes them as part of the the UK state in another, and sees no need to explain how it could be both.

An unusual feature of Gibbons' book is that he quotes fairly extensively from the Parliamentary debate on the Bill.  Did he read the report without seeing the case that Carson argued against its Northern Ireland provisions?

When the Bill was introduced Carson said that the Ulster Unionists did not want a separate Parliamentary system in which they would have to govern Catholics.  But the general Unionist Party insisted that they must have it.  Then, in discussion of the detail of the Bill, Carson argued that the development of normal politics in the North would be impossible if the issue of abolishing the Parliament and merger with the South was left hanging in the air to be decided by a snap vote in the Parliament.  "Under that arrangement you will never get over the old political differences which are dividing the people… at present".

There was a strong Labour interest in the North—

"and my belief… is that when they come to work the Parliament in these industrial districts the elections will turn probably on Labour questions, probably on a Labour Government… because they have a great preponderance of voting power…  Would it not be most unfair that a Parliament elected upon that kind of question should have the power of saying, 'We will agree, although this was not the question at the election at all, to the fusion of the North of Ireland with the South of Ireland.  It seems to me to be disastrous to lay down any such matter as that" (10 Nov 1920).

Carson retired from politics when Northern Ireland was set up.  His place was taken by James Craig, who had been a Junior Minister at Westminster and had agreed to operate the Northern Ireland system.  He averted the kind of situation envisaged by Carson by ensuring that the only question at every election was what was called "the Constitutional question".  And he kept the Labour interest content by ensuring that the North, though excluded from British politics, should have the British social welfare system, financed by Britain.  Northern Ireland, therefore, had no internal political life.  Protestants and Catholics voted against each other, notionally on the issue of Partition, but it was always certain that the Protestants would win.  And, within this Purgatory, the Protestants policed the Catholics.

The chief responsibility for the continuation of this state of affairs for half a century lies with the British Labour Party, which virtuously washed its hands of concern for the working class in the Six County region of the state of which it became a governing party.