When someone announces the intention to shoot themselves in the foot you have three choices: say nothing, say something, get out of the way.
When it comes to Brexit, the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the EU, Ireland took all three options. First we held our tongues, then we spoke our minds, and now it looks like we will have to work day and night to stave off the worst excesses of the UK’s jingoistic bout of hara-kiri.
Let’s be clear about Brexit: there’s nothing clear about it. We don’t know, and reprehensibly, neither does the UK's current Conservative government, how hard the British exit from the EU will end up being.
We don’t know how it will heal or hinder relationships between each of the countries in our neighboring islands. We don’t know what happens when our second largest trading partner leaves the EU, since Ireland cannot do one-to-one trade deals with the UK.
We don’t know how the British intend to argue for continuing free trade without the free movement of people. What sort of border-free single market do they think they can access while banning almost all forms of immigration?
Dislike of Johnny Foreigner clearly runs deeper than we ever imagined in Blighty. Once upon a time they set sail to exploit or commandeer every nation they could, but now they have turned themselves into a sour fortress, allowing immigration controls to trump economic prosperity.
But their disdain for foreign types extends to Ireland too. After Brexit, even in the best-case scenario, the Irish economy is projected to experience a permanent loss of 1.1 percent of the country’s total GDP by 2030. Jolly sorry about that, I’m sure.
Furthermore, although Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced this week that effectively they would have to go down with the ship.
“Because we voted in the referendum as one United Kingdom, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom,” May told the Tory conference in Birmingham last week.
In case you still didn’t get the message she spelled it out: “There is no opt-out from Brexit. And I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious union between the four nations of our United Kingdom.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a newly minted divisive nationalist, coolly responded to this provocation with a tweet: “PM going out of her way to say Scotland’s voice and interests don’t matter. Strange approach from someone who wants to keep U.K. together.”
Since immigration controls are undeniably at the heart of Brexit, it is difficult for the rest of Europe to see its adoption as anything other than a referendum on their merits.
Seeing the writing on the wall, some of the most conservative broadsheets in the Republic have been counseling the North’s political parties to embrace the disaster and their new destiny outside the EU.
Meanwhile, fearful of a resurgent nationalism in Scotland and Northern Ireland and greater moves towards independence, the British government sought to quiet dissent this week by brutally crushing it.
But the truth is that Northern Ireland and Scotland are afterthoughts, Brexit has made this clear to nationalists and unionists alike. It’s the fate of the City of London and the more affluent Home Counties that are the Tory’s main concerns.
Now the EU’s investment in Northern Ireland’s infrastructure and in peace building will be lost. Who seriously imagines that the Tories will step in to offset the shortfalls? Farmers in particular were dependent on EU grants and must now depend on a Tory government.
It’s a Tory government big on gestures but small on explanations. Under what terms, for example, does the UK plan to leave the EU?
You would think, since these moves will affect the lives of millions for decades to come, that some clarity should have emerged by now, wouldn’t you?
Brexit was a spectacular piece of political theater, but it’s as one-sided as a theatrical backdrop. What started out as a squabble between the right and the far right within the Tory party has spilled over into the streets and into history.
Reports on the ground say that racist groups have been emboldened by Brexit, seeing in it as an endorsement of their racial resentments. Hate crimes have boomed after the leave vote, seeing a 14 percent rise.
If this is the shape of things to come for the UK, they’ve begun ominously.