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It seems that the Brexit saga is the gift that just keeps on giving. Since 2016 British politics, and certainly British public discourse, has left the world of truth, facts and logical argument, in favour of denial, scaremongering and, well, …lies. The race for the Theresa May’s replacement and, hence, the new Prime Minister of Britain, is similarly happening in this parallel universe in which reality is irrelevant and impossible promises carry the day. The first televised leadership debate took place on Sunday evening and, in keeping with the surreal nature of British public life at the moment, the favoured candidate (by quite a British mile!) – Boris Johnson – was represented by an empty lectern. The other candidates – all male (there’ll be no vicar’s daughter this time) – promised Brexit by October (Michael Gove), Brexit by shutting down parliament (Dominic Raab), Brexit by paying off the Irish (Sajid Javid), Brexit by a new deal (Jeremy Hunt) and Brexit by repeating Theresa May’s strategy (Rory Stewart).
While EU leaders may justifiably groan with sheer despair at the level of British denial, the Irish can afford no such luxury watching on in horror at the unfolding drama of incompetence. How, they wonder, could anyone in Britain think that the issue of the Irish border could be settled by offering to pay for it, as Javid, the Home Secretary, does? How could anyone look at these islands and seriously endorse a ‘no deal Brexit’, as Raab, the erstwhile Brexit Secretary does? It is true Raab resigned from the government rather than endorse the withdrawal agreement he had negotiated; it is true he admitted to not having read the Good Friday Agreement and, it is true that he “hadn’t quite understood” the importance of the Dover-Calais crossing to British trade. Nonetheless, the Irish cry, surely now, surely when running to become the leader of the British nation, he has informed himself? He has done some basic reading?
No need to panic, there is still the articulate Mr Gove. But no, for one must remember he denounced the Good Friday Agreement after it was signed (although it now transpires, by his own admission, he may have been on cocaine at the time…) comparing it to akin to the appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s.
Of course, for those watching the debate from Ireland, it was the absent candidate that poses the biggest threat: Boris Johnson. The former Foreign Secretary has a slippery grasp on the truth, he changes his mind as often and as quickly as wind on an average Irish summer’s day. He has referred to the Irish backstop as a “monstrosity” that needs to be “junked”; he has likened the Irish border to that of two boroughs of London and denounced the issue as “the tail wagging the dog”.
Many in Northern Ireland are so concerned about all the talk of a ‘no deal Brexit’ that they liken it to instituting an economic blockade of Northern Ireland. Even the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Irish party that voted (contrary to the general Northern Irish electorate) for Brexit and currently props up the Tory government, has tried to blame the Irish government for forcing Britain into a ‘no deal scenario’ – a clear sign that they too are panicking.
The British Conservative party is fond of seeing Ireland as a proverbial thorn in its side, it has always refused to see the country on its own terms. It is clear what position Ireland would be in were it not a member of the EU – it would be collateral damage to yet another British imperial plan. It is little wonder the Irish record 90% support for the EU.
Boris Johnson once declared his chances of becoming Prime Minister were about as good as finding Elvis Presley on Mars; the Irish will have to hope that for once what he said will turn out to be accurate.
|Lindsey Earner-Byrne is a historian of Ireland and works in communications at Eurac Research.|