Not Foreigners, Not a Foreign Country

Although most of Ireland became an independent state in 1922, it was as a dominion of the British Empire known as the Irish Free State. This came to an end in 1937 following a referendum on a new constitution, but some powers were still reserved to the United Kingdom. The final vestiges of constitutional attachment to the United Kingdom were only brought to an end when the Irish passed the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948.

In response to this, the United Kingdom Government passed the Ireland Act, 1949. Section 2(1) of this Act is particularly interesting:


It clearly states that the United Kingdom does not regard the Republic of Ireland as a foreign country for the purpose of any law or act that had either been passed before or might be passed in future; and that citizens of the Republic of Ireland would not be classed as foreigners or aliens. Section 2(1) has not been repealed or amended (check this page) and remains in force to this day.


That makes the repeated assertions by several unionist politicians about the Scots suddenly becoming "foreigners" if Scotland becomes independent—including this by David Cameron and these by Ed Miliband and other prominent Labour and LibDem politicians—not only hollow and ridiculous, but dreadfully misinformed.

There is absolutely no reason why the remainder of the UK should treat an independent Scotland and its people any differently from the way the (somewhat larger) remainder of the UK treated the Republic of Ireland and its people in 1949.

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MH said...

Hat tip to Steffan Lewis, our next AM for Islwyn, for telling me about this.

Democritus said...

There was a great deal more to it than this; but certainly scottish independence, as with the 26 counties, will create a great many cases of dual nationality. The Irish have paid a genuine, if not particularly onerous, price in terms of lost freedom of action in order to maintain the access to the UK they previously enjoyed by right of common citizenship.

MH said...

You must be a troll from another planet, Democritus. Citizens of Ireland and citizens of the remainder of the UK that existed before 1922 have enjoyed many reciprocal privileges such as voting rights, passport-free travel and residence rights long before our joint membership of the EU extended some of those mutual privileges to a wider range of nations.

As for paying a price, remember that Ireland is still (even after the banking crisis) a very much more prosperous country per head of population than the UK ... as measured by the American CIA, the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD. See this post.

Democritus said...

Yes indeed. And the rights are reciprocal. The situation of the ascendancy was paramount to Churchill et al. The British Isles free travel area has prohibited both countries joining schengen; the Irish have long tied their currency to others (and undergone previous very painful deflation to maintain it). They have also been effectively compelled to become a neutral country in return for cancelling the leases on the treaty ports in 1938.

glynbeddau said...

Democritus On the issue of Ireland neutrality. I suggest you read Clair Wills' "That Neutral Island" (In fact I suggest everyone should read it). In it she points out hat Churchill offered de Valera a united Ireland in 1939 if Ireland joined the allies. Devs reason for not doing so become clear in this brilliant book.

Jac o' the North, said...

And then there's the linked nonsense about Scots losing out on opportunities to prosper and advance themselves within the UK.

This obviously explains why Aer Lingus and Ryanair aren't allowed to use UK airports, and why we don't see Dara O'Brain and Graham Norton on our television screens, etc., etc.

It's all scaremongering nonsense that shows how desperate, and devoid of serious arguments, the NO campaign has become.

Bill Chapman said...

I would like to see Ireland becvoming part of the United Kingdom again. Why not?

I have mentioned this to many people in Ireland and heard approving comments.

kp said...

The more individual countries there are throughout Europe the better. Competition between states is generally regarded as a good thing and has, over the years, proven to be so (especially so in terms of decreasing tax rates, improving public services and eradicating generous social welfare programs).

My only concern with Scottish independence is that it will force the welfare seekers to move to England or Wales in order to maintain their present lifestyles, thereby allowing Scotland to rapidly improve its competitiveness as a nation state.

Bad for Wales, bad for England but good for Scotland.

Jac o' the North, said...

kp, Wales is linked with England but "welfare seekers" are being moved here - so where does this leave your argument?

In reality, given the political complexion of the country, an independent Scotland will have far more generous social security provisions than England, or what's left of the UK.

Making the possible problem for an independent Scotland an influx of "welfare seekers". (What happened to 'scroungers'? Getting mellow in your old age, kp?)

MH said...

You inhabit a mirror world, Democritus. The UK and Ireland have not been "prohibited" from joining Schengen. The exact opposite is true: the UK fought hard to stay out of Schengen. Ireland was free to decide either way, but thought it better to continue with the Common Travel Area because it was more convenient for them.

And Ireland was not "compelled" to become neutral, it was put under a lot of pressure not to be neutral, but was able to decide its foreign policy for itself.


Glyn, are you able to sum up de Valera's reason in a couple of sentences?


Bill wants to know why Ireland shouldn't become part of the UK again. The answer is obvious: because most people in Ireland don't want it. In fact, not one country (there's a list here) that has gained its independence from the UK has wanted to return.

But I would welcome a continuing close relationship between the countries of our islands when we are independent. The Nordic Council and Nordic Council of ministers would be a good template, as I said here.


KP is as nuts as ever. Becoming independent doesn't increase or decrease tax rates, improve or worsen public services, or make social welfare programmes more or less generous. Being independent gives a nation the ability to decide these things for themselves, rather than having them decided by the electorate of another country.

Both Wales and Scotland are more left-leaning countries than England. I would love to see us have a more progressive tax system to pay for better social services and generous social welfare programmes. Redistribution of wealth is the best way of creating a fairer, more equal society.

As a timely reminder of how unequal Scottish society has become, I'd urge people to read this story on a new report by Oxfam Scotland. I'd expect the situation in Wales to be fairly similar.


Royston, thanks for reminding us that not even independence can protect us from Graham Norton.

glynbeddau said...

MH I don't think I can sum up Dev's reasons I'm not really a big fan of his . He was criticised for sending condolences to the German Army on the Death of Hitler but it is argued that he did so to point out Ireland's Neutrality. But it worth looking at his reply to Churchill's
Which is a masterclass

But i really recommend Clare Wills book

MH said...

Thanks, Glyn.

Reading the link you gave, which was in response to Churchill's speech here, should hopefully be enough to persuade even Democritus that Ireland was not "compelled to become a neutral country". Quite the contrary, it was put under enormous pressure not to be neutral.

However I think it might be fair to argue that Ireland's neutrality was more a point of principle than fact; for many from Ireland did fight against Germany, and Ireland gave free passage to Allied servicemen which it did not give to German servicemen.

The refusal of a "deal" by which a united Ireland would have been offered in exchange for British use of the former Treaty Ports is one of the key factors in anyone's judgement of de Valera's reputation. That's why I wanted to know what Clair Willis thought of it without having to buy the book. On the face of it, de Valera wanted a united Ireland (he certainly seemed bitter enough about partition in the speech you linked to) but I wonder whether the inclusion of a Protestant, Brito-centric north east would have worked against the sort of Ireland he wanted, to the extent that this was the real reason he refused it.

And that, of course, is still part of the political narrative: irrespective of what those in the six counties want, is reunification what those in the twenty-six counties want?

I, however, would put the question (both in World War Two and today) slightly differently and ask: To what extent is the Republic of Ireland prepared to change itself in order to accommodate the people of the six counties? It seems clear to me that the six counties enjoy a degree of autonomy that they would be loath to lose in a unitary Irish state governed from Dublin. But if Ireland were to become a federal state in which the six counties retained their autonomy and other provinces were given a similar degree of regional autonomy, reunification would become a much more attractive and workable proposition.

Anonymous said...

Some great links, diolch to both of you.

From what I gather the ROI is quite lucky that Churchill was kind enough not to wipe them off the map like so many of his countrymen have tried to do over the centuries.

I know people sometime refer to him as a mass murdering genocidal racist but he always did it like a gent.

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