Wednesday 26 October 2016

We should stop moaning and embrace Brexit change

We are a clever, talented little nation that should ignore the irrelevant carry on and hysteria, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30

Theresa May announced that Britain will invoke article 50 in March 2017 Picture: Reuters
Theresa May announced that Britain will invoke article 50 in March 2017 Picture: Reuters

When it comes to Brexit, we can resist all change or we can act like the agile, clever, articulate, opportunist little nation we are capable of being. The die-hard faction was symbolised yesterday by "Border Communities Against Brexit", that gathered at six different locations to promise no surrender.

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Led by Sinn Fein, which opposed the EU for more than 40 years and still condemns its economic policy, in the words of MEP Martina Anderson, who last year was loudly denouncing "anti-democratic actions of the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission", it is galvanising opposition to "the British government's plans to drag us out of Europe against our democratically expressed position". Sinn Fein, the reactionary party, is now the most vocal of those insisting Northern Ireland must stay tied to the apron strings of the European Commission, even though mammy is mean with the sweets and threatens us with the wooden spoon. It is one of the small group of NI parties demanding a judicial review of Brexit.

Then there's the "Civic Dialogue" which is supposed to fashion an all-Ireland strategy challenging Brexit, but which will be a complete waste of time since no unionist parties will attend. All this and other irrelevant carry on is going on against a background of quite absurd and ill-informed, Anglophobic hysteria.

I live in London, where my friends of many nationalities were probably evenly split over the referendum and few voted with much enthusiasm. Like me, they mostly thought that either way there was trouble ahead, for most felt that leaving was likely to be about as easy as trying to escape from North Korea, yet only deluded Europhiles could ignore the state of Greece, the wobbliness of the Euro, the split in Europe over migrants and the complete failure to deal with this mass of human suffering, the disgrace of youth unemployment, the widespread contempt for mainstream politicians, and the arrogance and ineptitude of the European Commission, personified in the egregious President Jean-Claude Juncker.

None of these Leavers was a little Englander: they just all thought we'd be better off making our own laws and trading with the whole world rather than as part of the rigid, protectionist EU. Contrary to recent propaganda, very few Brexiteers want to stop immigration: several recent opinion polls have shown that the vast majority of the British population believes that any EU residents at the time of the referendum should be allowed to stay on. Only the far-right fringe believe immigration should stop. There is, however, a perfectly reasonable feeling that a country should be able to control its own borders: England is threatened by free movement because more people want to live in it than it can possibly look after properly; the pressure on the public services is becoming critical in many areas.

The die is cast: politicians should be ignoring the hysterics and listening to the constructive. As David McWilliams wrote last week, there is a perfectly good chance that "managed properly, Brexit will be good for Ireland… Change can bring out the best in people, companies and countries - it's simply up to us to tap into that potential".

Liz O'Donnell, who as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs was much involved in the Good Friday Agreement talks, pointed out that when refusing to attend the Civic Dialogue talking-shop, First Minister Arlene Foster was dead right to point out that the North South Ministerial Council makes it unnecessary: that's where grown-up politicians should sort out such issues as border control, common travel and security. At the Conservative party conference, Mrs Foster (whose party has eight votes in Westminster that could be very useful to Theresa May) met the prime minister and was able to confirm that she is against a hard border. And as Newton Emerson recently reported, clever people on

either side of the border are already discussing how perceptions of the border are increasingly more of a software than a hardware problem. Checkpoints are so yesterday.

Eamon Delaney, director of the Hibernia Forum, is one of those urging us to show some courage. Now our main ally has opted to leave and it's just us against the Germans and the French, we need "to think outside the increasingly threatened (and threatening!) EU box": among our options, he mentions the Commonwealth and the SAEI, the Small Advanced Economies Initiative (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland).

We extricated ourselves from the British Empire only to accept unthinkingly the rule of the Roman Catholic Church and after that the EU.

Maybe it's time to nurture and develop some revolutionary thoughts about independence.

Sunday Independent

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