… January 2022
Brexit is the royalty of twenty first century enigmas. In a world which has decided that economics and money are more important than life itself (i.e., other people’s lives), why would anyone decide to desert their nearest and biggest market without having firm plans in place about the next move? Writers of various hues and economists of diverse talents have since destroyed the garden, endlessly beating around the bushes looking for a sensible reason for the decision. There is no answer unless it is to be found in fairy tales of Empire or just xenophobia. Returning to their age of buccaneering world trading is a nice idea, but they seem to forget that they no longer rule the waves, do not have the necessary ships, and the Colonial Office can no longer write the terms of trade deals. The nonsensical UKIP party supported Brexit without a single known policy of what to do afterwards. Farmers voted for it, seemingly oblivious to the inevitable consequence of mountains of cheap antipodal beef and lamb burying them. Fishermen voted for it without any idea that they were like owners of large stocks of sea urchins, snails and frog legs, deciding, in support of the antiquated myth of true sovereignty, to reserve them all for sale on the British market only.
This demented incoherence is most noticeable in British policy relating to Northern Ireland. Driven by their emotional need to proclaim a clean and fundamentalist Brexit, they abandoned the single market. But to avoid upsetting the Americans by reneging on the Good Friday Agreement they had to sign a Protocol; an act that deeply offended Unionism. This offence was deeply heartfelt, despite the enormous gift of having access to both markets!
Almost immediately they broke the rules and we had the truly historical moment of a British Cabinet Minister telling Parliament that ‘Yes, the Government had broken the law, but very narrowly’. It calls to mind the story a senior Irish judge used to tell of his first ever case on the bench when, exasperated by endless technical arguments, he turned to the witness, a bus driver, and asked, “what colour were the traffic lights when you entered the junction?”. Being unwilling to lie under oath, the witness’s hesitant reply was, “an early red Your Honour”. A bus driver trying to diminish his fault is funny, but the British Government? Then, a few weeks later they told us that they had never intended to abide by the Protocol anyway. Wow!
Ireland, particularly the North, is being used as a meaningless pawn by the current Government in Westminster. When the Unionist community are appalled by the idea of a border in the Irish Sea (unless it is for abortion or same sex marriage), their government agrees and loudly proclaims that such a thing is unthinkable. Then, suddenly, there is one because they are desperate to get a deal done. When the Americans cough, they are reassured that the Good Friday Agreement is very close to British hearts. When sleaze and incompetence need a distraction, they invent a scandal about the availability to the locals of The Great British Sausage or introduce the tourism destroying, red tape idea of an electronic visa for E.U. Citizens visiting the Republic but wishing to visit the North whilst here. Most E.U. tourists do not even know that there are two administrations on the same island, and will be even more confused by the non-existent border.
If nothing else, Brexit in Ireland should teach us a global truth: no State should ever govern a community of which it knows nothing, and does not care a jot about. In their ignorance and their own interests, they have allowed a community, for which they are responsible, to remain endlessly in the troubled past. How many English people do you know who care a smidgen whether their neighbours and friends are Catholic or Protestant? Tensions in the six counties will not be reduced by appointing a series of abrasive, non-diplomatic, pawn-using Ministers to negotiate Brexit conditions with Europe. The ordinary British public need to be apprised that the difficulties in Northern Ireland are not due to an imaginary flaw in its own citizens – but to their own neglect.