Irish become target of Brexiteers' acrimony over border issue

Dublin (AFP) –


Pro-Brexit British politicians have heavily criticised Ireland due to fears it may block the start of the next phase of EU negotiations over the country's sensitive border.

Dublin and other EU member states are set to decide this month if Britain has made sufficient progress in three key areas of the talks -- the border issue, the country's exit bill and the rights of expatriate citizens.

In the run-up to the crucial decision, the rhetoric from people anxious for an agreement has become increasingly incendiary against their former colony.

"The South needs to wind its neck in," wrote Northern Ireland's former first minister Peter Robinson, in a post on Facebook last week.

Irish politicians "have taken to lecturing the UK" and should adopt a "more positive and accommodating approach," he added.

The Sun tabloid adopted an even angrier tone: "Ireland's naive young prime minister should shut its gob on Brexit and grow up."

Prime Minister "Leo Varadkar may not like Brexit but he needs to accept it's happening," the newspaper said.

Gerard Batten, a member of the European Parliament from the UK Independence Party, tweeted: "UK threatened by Ireland. A tiny country that relies on UK for its existence."

Batten's message, posted on November 26, elicited hundreds of indignant responses from other Twitter users.

- Irish 'a bit petty' -

Ireland's insistence in Brexit negotiations that there can be no return to a hard border on the island has generated other reactions on social media, including ugly historical references.

"Oh bring back Cromwell, he understood how to deal with the Irish," one Twitter user wrote in response to a news article on the topic.

Oliver Cromwell led British forces sent to conduct a brutal conquest of Ireland in the 17th century.

Britain's right-wing newspapers have also joined in.

"Ireland and the EU need to stop using the border as a stick to beat us with," the headline of an editorial in the Daily Telegraph newspaper said last month.

In the war of words, pro-Brexit UK lawmaker Kate Hoey warned Dublin that there would be consequences if the talks stall this month.

"If this ends up with a no deal, we won't be putting up the border, they'll have to pay for it," she told a BBC interviewer, echoing US President Donald Trump's controversial campaign comments that Mexico pay for building a wall on America's southern border.

The escalating rhetoric is "worrying", wrote Jennifer O'Connell of the Irish Times in a recent column.

She said that "the work done by the hard Brexiteers... trying to position the border question as an Irish problem seems to be paying off".

O'Connell highlighted a video from Britain's Channel 4 News that went viral in which Britons were asked to draw the actual borderline between the Irish republic and Northern Ireland -- with little success.

The interviewees were then asked their feelings about the Brexit negotiations, which elicited responses like "the Irish are just making trouble" and accusations of being "a bit petty".