What is this?
We don’t really talk about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit anymore. We just stare at the diplomatic shambles morphing into economic and cultural catastrophe and do nothing.
It’s like living life in slow-motion.
This week showed the psychology of this new English nationalism to be a delicate cocktail composed of equal measures of overweening self-importance and a crippling victim complex.
It is everywhere.
Here’s James Forsyth (Sun columnist and Political Editor of the Spectator) stoking the newly primed Blame the Irish meme. In an article framed as exploring the “the mounting anger at the way the Irish Taoiseach and his team are behaving” he talks of Leo Varadkar’s “strident tone” and then writes:
“The Irish proposal is quite remarkable: it is a state seeking to divide its neighbour economically”.
He then goes on to write, in mildly threatening notes:
“Inside government, there is mounting anger at the way that the Taoiseach and his team are behaving. One normally mild-mannered cabinet member tells me that Varadkar is ‘playing with fire’.
It’s unclear what that threat implies but the tone is clear: pipe down Paddy.
What is extraordinary about this if you stand back for one second is not just that the British bluffed and lied and prevaricated about this issue when they knew fine it was a real problem. But more than that the real contempt shown to a neighbouring sovereign European country and member of These Blessed Islands that evokes such tear-jerking guff.
What Forsyth and a dozen others are saying to Ireland is this: you didn’t vote for any of this, you don’t want any of this but we can and will create a new wall, a new border that has the potential to destabilise your country.
We will do this for short-term party political gain and we will do this in full knowledge of the fragile and short-lived peace that has endured. If you complain we will threaten you.
“Have better arguments” is the Spectator strap-line. They really should.
The Blame Game
England’s relationship with Ireland has always been problematic and it seems that the salve of peace has not replaced old attitudes but merely sidelined them. In times of crisis they are dusted down and given a new shine. But blaming the Irish isn’t going to work, much like blaming the Poles, the Jocks, the blacks, the immigrants hasn’t either.
The problem also, for thin-skinned and frightened English nationalists staring into the abyss of this monster they have created is that they have no idea that their meddling in Ireland has consequences.
Pulling on the thread of Northern Irish identity and (relative) peace and security could backfire massively, and not just be a problem for the “strident” Varadkar.
As Duncan Morrow points out, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 “was endorsed by 72% of Northern Irish voters – compared to Brexit, an overwhelming mandate.”
But the settlement in Northern Ireland is not secure and neither is the peace. Morrow writes (‘Brexit has blown open the unreconciled divisions in Northern Ireland‘):
“…internally, the Executive was subject to repeated breakdowns over unresolved issues of responsibility for killing and contentious cultural symbols, and made no progress on delivering an integrated rather than segregated future. The permanent crisis was replaced by repeated mini-crises over policing, flags, parades, the past, paramilitaries and language. Constitutional instruments designed to ensure inter-community fairness became vehicles for single-party veto. Almost every year since 2010, the situation required outside intervention. In each case, the consistent priority of both London and Dublin was to restore institutions rather than take additional responsibility to address unresolved issues at depth. For as long as devolution could be restored, the welcome and radical reduction in violence in Northern Ireland meant that any challenges to reconciliation were technical rather than systemic.
This time, the continuing weakness of the 1998 framework in the face of national antagonism has been starkly revealed.”
So when we see the City of Culture bid for Dundee being torched by the Brexit fiasco (what else did we think was going to happen?), let’s get some perspective.
These awards may be window-dressing for cultural elites, and frequently drain rather than support local art and artists. But as a sign and a symbol of where we are going it is pretty clear.
Ties are being cut, connections are being severed and funding will be lost.
We are not just leaving the EU we are being forced out of and away from Europe. Scotland will need to work hard to stay connected and to foster and enhance relations with our European citizens and friends.
One of the very odd things about listening to the British media’s coverage of the (final) end-days of Robert Mugabe’s political career is the complete history-wipe that happens. Basking in post-colonial glory British media reports African affairs as if it’s a continent with which we have no shared history, no past, no guilt.
And it’s this cleansed and revised version of history that spurs on the increasingly febrile LEAVE Tory high command. It’s this fantasy of neo-colonial glory waiting just around the corner that is driving some of the madness.
Simon Tilford writes of the ‘British and their Exceptionalism’:
“Why does the British elite, and not the French and German ones, believe they do not need the EU? The first reason is their rose-tinted view of Britain’s history. There is always a disjuncture between the way a country sees itself and how others perceive it, but this disjuncture is especially large in Britain’s case. Britain did not face the need to regain legitimacy in the same way as Germany did after the war, but there are more similarities than most Britons are prepared to admit. Too many see Britain as a beacon of democracy and liberty. Too few are aware that the country’s colonial history means that much of the rest of the world is more ambivalent – and that Britain is less trusted and admired – than they imagine.
The emphasis that many Brexiters place on the Commonwealth illustrates this. It is notable that so many former British colonies are happy to be members of such a club, but that is perhaps because they see the club differently from many Britons. India is a member, but sees no justification for privileged economic relations with Britain, as illustrated by the Indian government’s rather bemused response to Britain’s clumsy emphasis on the two countries’ shared history as a reason for some kind of special economic relationship. Nor do the Indians, or any other Commonwealth country, see Britain as leading the organisation in the way many British appear to.
The second reason for the hostility, or at least ambivalence, of the British elite to the EU is that they always resented Britain playing second fiddle to the Franco-German axis. Not joining the EU until 1973 meant that the EU always looked like a Franco-German project that privileged French and German interests to the detriment of those of the other member-states, especially Britain. In short, the British have never been able to wholeheartedly support a European project that they were not the leaders of. And it is this, as much as an aversion to sharing sovereignty, that explains the depth of antipathy to the EU.”
This is largely true – if we ignore the lack of distinction between England and Britain.
The public mood is angry and confused and frustrated. No doubt the LEAVE supporters will turn into an angry mob when the inevitable payment of £40 billion or more is paid out.
There’s a miasma of lies and badly constructed spin.
A budget enshrines a low-wage economy for twenty years and ensures crippling debt whilst undermining green energy and says it is “looking forward”.
As the former Scottish leader wades through fish-guts in an effort to convey ‘Labour values’ the pantomime becomes farce.
You get the impression that no-one has taken back control, nor will they.
The UK govt has pretended to consult and involve the devolved governments but they have not. Reports on the economic impacts of Brexit are concealed from the public.
Welcome to Brexit Britain where claim and counter-claim about who is distorting democracy escalates rapidly:
“Truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be seen as the highest degree of sacredness.” – Feuerbach, Preface to the Second Edition of The Essence of Christianity.