Between the Devil and the Deep Red Irish Sea

“We made clear, and I made clear in the House a bit earlier that we will do nothing that will draw a customs border down the Red Sea… And we will – if I may – IRISH SEA” Irish sea!”
Dominic Raab at the Exiting the EU Committee

It’s easy to think of the new Foreign Secretrickster of being a buffoon: that he accidentally called the Irish Sea the Red Sea because he’s too stupid to immediately think the sea separating these islands from Ireland might have Irish in the name. After all, this is a man who has a history of making incredibly stupid statements.

But there comes a point where ignorance simply doesn’t add up anymore. There comes a point where someone seems to be too stupid – and for me, this is where I started to reassess Dominic Raab.

It stretches credulity to think that Mr Raab said the Red Sea when he meant the Irish Sea because he somehow believed that was the name of the body of water next door to our Irish neighbours – more likely it was a Freudian Slip, where – for whatever reason – Mr Raab was thinking about the Red Sea in an unrelated matter. But why? What does the Red Sea have to do with the UK leaving the EU?

Well for one thing, the chaos going on in the Middle East and North Africa – no thanks, in large part, to UK military adventurism – has led to a boom in Red Sea tourism:

The political turbulence which has afflicted various parts of the Middle East and North Africa in the last decade has seen several celebrated places put to one side as possible holiday destinations – not just on grounds of safety, but by dint of basic common sense.

Yet while some travellers may mourn the ongoing inaccessibility of the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna in Libya, or the souks and towering walls of the Syrian capital Damascus, it is the fencing-off of the soft beaches on the Red Sea which matters most to sun-seekers.

Interesting. So which tourist destinations stand out on the shores of this new market for UK holidaymakers this very summer?

Late summer is a traditional time for major carriers to announce new routes – which is why, in recent weeks, both Wizz Air and easyJet have published plans to target the Red Sea market. The former will fly to Eilat twice a week from Luton as of October 28 – in what will be the only direct connection between the UK and the Israeli city. The latter will enter similar fresh airspace when it launches a weekly non-stop service between Gatwick and the Jordanian tourism hotspot of Aqaba, flights beginning on November 10.

With the UK grounding Egypt flights long after other EU countries lifted theirs, and the FCO banning of travel through the Sinai Peninsula in northern Egypt, it’s interesting – if unsurprising – that the two Middle-Eastern nations with the strongest UK ties would leap to fill the Pharaonic vaccuum. This takes place during a time when the United States (also close allies with Jordan and Israel) are strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, another Red Sea Coast nation with strong UK relations.

The other Red Sea states – Sudan and Eritrea in the west, and Yemen in the east – all have, shall we say, less than sunny relationships with the UK.

What’s also interesting to me is that Raab’s statement was made in October last year. What else was happening last year?

Critical waterway for imports of oil from the Middle East is now being protected by elite commandos

Elite commandos have been sent to a Red Sea port to protect UK shipping threatened by the war in Yemen.

Special Boat Service troops have been deployed to America’s Camp Lemonnier base in Djibouti to link up with US Special ­Operations forces amid fears that oil supplies from the Middle East could be suspended, bringing chaos to western economies.

3rd August 2018


The Council of African Studies (CAS) at the MacMillan Center invited Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, to speak about the significance of the Red Sea in current African and Middle East politics, on October 10, as part of the CAS Lecture Series.

De Waal kicked off the event by stating the prime purpose of his talk: that the “Red Sea is a salient, but overlooked issue” that has major security implications, especially for the Middle East and Africa.

23rd October 2018


DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is still moving ahead with three major development projects, NEOM, the Red Sea tourism project, and an entertainment development that will include a Six Flags theme park.

The global outrage over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has prompted some Western companies to put partnerships on hold, or hold off from taking funds from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

British billionaire Richard Branson earlier this month said he would suspend his directorship in two Saudi tourism projects around the Red Sea, citing Khashoggi’s disappearance…

… Construction of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea tourism project will start in 2019 and open the first phase of its development in 2022, the Red Sea Development Company’s chief executive, John Pagano, said.

Saudi Arabia plans to develop resorts on 50 islands off the Red Sea coast, backed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. The Red Sea Project, to be built between the cities of Amlaj and al-Jawh, will offer a nature reserve, diving in coral reefs and heritage sites.

25th October 2018


The Saudi-led coalition has massed thousands of troops near Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, local military sources said on Wednesday, in a move to pressure Iranian-aligned Houthi insurgents to return to U.N.-sponsored peace talks…

… The U.N. special envoy to Yemen is trying to salvage peace talks that collapsed in September, raising the risk of a renewed assault on the Red Sea city, the country’s main port and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis reliant on humanitarian aid.

– 31st October 2018

And this isn’t even scratching the surface of the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, which takes us in some truly bizarre directions:

And lest you think there’s nothing really linking the WWE to the current UK Government, well, look what turned up on WWE RAW two weeks ago:

Trump. Farage. Johnson. WWE. Israel. Jordan. Saudi Arabia. Connecting them all… the Deep Red Sea.

Maybe it’s better for your sanity to think Dominic Raab really is just a gigantic doofus. Perhaps he really is, and this is just me reading into things too deeply. But it’s cold comfort all the same knowing that the man who mistook two seas central to the UK’s future in two different ways is now in charge of international relations. I’m much more frightened of the man playing the fool than a genuine fool.

The UK’s choice is truly between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The origin of the phrase is quite intriguing: imagine a ship in stormy seas. A seam opens near the waterline: if nothing is done, then the ship could sink. A sailor could caulk the seam, providing the ship with enough time to get to port – but that would involve braving the storm, facing the possibility of falling overboard and dying. What does the sailor do: does he risk his life to save the ship, or risk the ship surviving long enough to weather the journey?

Leaving the EU has opened a seam in the H.M.S. Britannia. Do the ship’s crew that is the UK Government try to repair the seam (remain, or allow the remain-voting constituent nations the opportunity for their vote to be respected, or at least keep a close relationship by staying in the Single Market, Customs Union, & other institutions), putting their lifetime at risk? Or do they rely on old-fashioned stiff-upper-lip grit & pluck to make it through stormy seas with a massive leak in it? Either way, the passengers won’t be happy.

Of course, as the Good Ship Britannia prepares to shake itself to bits, Scotland, cursing both Devil and Sea, is eying up the stout little dinghy S.S. Independence

A flash in the pan goodbye
Still shooting for the open sky
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
I cannot find a compromise

It’s all just treason
They bring me down with their lies
Don’t know the reason
My life is fire and ice

One thought on “Between the Devil and the Deep Red Irish Sea

  1. Geraldine Harron says:

    Oh dear!

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