Thursday 22 March 2018

It’s our leaving party and we’ll cry if we want to ...

Four people from across the United Kingdom but now living and working in Ireland give their views on Brexit

A demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh ahead of a statement on Brexit by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Photo: PA
A demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh ahead of a statement on Brexit by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: PA

The only chance Scots have of living in a socially democratic country is independence, says Fiona Ness

Hypoxic - that's the word that best describes it: the confusion, the galloping heartbeat and the awful sweats that have accompanied Brexit.

Oh, and there's the euphoria too. Because I can't deny that it's something to be celebrated, the way Scotland has risen up in a tsunami of political engagement - the likes of which I haven't witnessed since my granny brought me out to march with the miners in the 1980s.

I can still hear her shouting, "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out! Out! Out!" And getting angry, with so many questions unanswered.

In the end, Scotland was hobbled. Same as it ever was.

Later, as a young student of Scots law, the newly ratified Maastricht Treaty seemed singularly unimportant when it was parachuted into our curriculum, to sit somewhere between delict and the Moorov doctrine.

The lecture on EU law meant I consistently missed the last bus home.

And then came the benefits. Moving to Ireland in 1997, I enjoyed a seamless transition, my little red passport affording me all the advantages of my home country, abroad.

And when I went back, I still had the Scottish pound note. They can take our lives, but they can never take our currency...

"What has the EU got to do with us?" us students of the law had grumbled. Well now we're about to really find out.

As a Scot living in Ireland, Brexit has underlined what was always obvious before. Scotland has the misfortune to neighbour a country where a larger proportion of the population holds right-wing views. Brexit is English nationalism imposed on the Scottish. And it's not the nice, civic, populist nationalism of the Scottish Independence referendum, but a loutish roar of the disenchanted.

Post-Brexit, the only chance the Scots have at living in a socially democratic country is to once more seek independence from England. But what would this independence mean?

The reality is that - aside from being cheered on by its celtic cousin - an independent Scotland would be a much poorer country, even within Europe, with public services nothing like their current levels.

Is Scotland prepared for that? I am glad that I am only watching from the sidelines, hedging my bets and applying for an Irish passport for me and British passports for the kids. I feel angry, I feel sad, but mostly I feel that, once things calm down, it will go back to being okay. This is Britain, after all.

My granny spoke Esperanto, a 19th-century attempt to build a new, common EU language. She danced with the Polish airmen who were camped around our town during WWII. Her best friend was a nursing colleague from Mauritius. Her father's family were seafaring folk from Lithuania. She called me Macushla Mavourneen.

The principles of internationalism have never been a problem for the Scots.

With Britishness, we've always struggled.

Return to customs posts and visas unlikely as many will still cross the Border to work, writes Ed McCann

It was the day after the night before and ostensibly little had changed. On the A1/N1 Belfast road crossing the Border last Friday, there was little sign you were travelling across the new frontier between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

It's a route that I know well, as I cross the Border several times a week by car or on the train.

I am one of an estimated 25,000 people whose primary residence is in Northern Ireland but work in the Republic.

Similarly, thousands of people from the Republic work in Northern Ireland, with many of them travelling from Co Donegal to Derry. These workers have benefited from one of the four cornerstones of the single market: free movement of people.

It's hardly surprising then that Border constituencies in the North voted heavily in favour of remaining in the EU.

So what now?

The general impression after the shock at the Brexit vote had subsided was uncertainty.

If anyone had a plan in London, Brussels, Dublin or Belfast, they certainly haven't revealed it.

The only immediate and tangible impact for cross-border workers is that sterling's value has dipped but currency fluctuations are nothing new.

The rest is up in the air but it is unlikely that customs posts and visas will return.

This would surely be impractical and a retrograde step both north and south.

A simple example would be the main route from Donegal to Dublin, which cuts across the Border twice through Co Fermanagh.

Uncertainty, though, is corrosive.

For Northern Ireland, which has been unstable to greater and lesser degrees for most of its existence, uncertainty looms over its relationship with its largest trading partner and neighbour, the Republic.

The uncertainty comes at a time when a stable, devolved administration had finally seemed to have been put in place following a rapprochement between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Some unionists who were rejoicing at the result of the vote may live to regret this if the UK is destabilised by a surge in Scottish and potentially English nationalism.

Furthermore, a clear majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but will now be forced against their will to leave.

Another impact could be on foreign direct investment, which Stormont had hoped to target with a cut in corporation tax.

The North may be a less attractive destination now that it will potentially no longer have direct access to a single market of 500 million people.

However, as Britain grapples with its relationship with Europe and internal fissures exposed by the referendum vote, it seems ironic that the political debate in Northern Ireland, too often shrill, has been relatively calm compared with the rest of the UK.

In the meantime, life will go on and possibly not much will change in the short term apart from a surge in people from Northern Ireland, including unionists, applying for Irish (EU) passports.

Thousands of people will continue to cross the border to work.

But lingering in the background will be the uncertainty over what lies ahead.

Communities in Wales that grew strong on coal, grew fearful on the dole, writes Gareth Morgan

Popular history in Wales holds that we were the first of the Brits: the original tribes that scraped a living from the sodden island before the Anglo-Saxons pushed us to the fringes.

Political history confirms that Wales was the first Act of Union, the 7,500 words in the 1536 act tying its laws and legal language to England.

But cultural history suggests a distinct identity - with a native language still widely spoken and a clamour to wear the red dragon proudly on the heart for any sporting event, from a Euro 2016 quarter final to a Six Nations clash to…well, a game of tiddlywinks.

It was a shock to wake up last Friday morning to see that the Leave vote had carried; it was a far deeper shock to scroll through the constituencies and see just how much Wales had contributed.

Only five of 22 districts voted Remain.

Three of those contribute 25pc of Wales's economic wealth.

A sense of identity was smashed: forged through the red jersey, Welsh hymns and left-wing politics baked into the working class communities of the Valleys.

Cardiff itself grew wealthy and vibrant on the influx of immigrants from Ireland, Denmark, Somalia, Yemen, Italy and further afield.

But in one referendum result, it suddenly became clear that for a huge chunk of the 21st-century population, Wales is predominantly a sports team and not a nation.

And it is deeply ironic that immigration dominated the EU referendum debate in Wales.

It was all too easy to forget that it has the lowest rates of immigration in the UK.

But that's the problem: they haven't come to steal our jobs, because in reality there are very few jobs to steal.

Modern Wales is divided - and at least three distinct camps emerged:

The Welsh-speaking heartlands who voted to Remain, along with cosmopolitan Cardiff.

A sizeable minority of English-born people (one in five of the population of Wales), most of whom would instinctively gravitate more towards Westminster than Welsh Assembly.

And, crucially, a huge number of deprived and disenfranchised people who live in post-industrial Wales, who have ultimately been let down by establishment politics, not least the implosion of the Labour Party. Valleys that grew proud and strong on coal, grew fearful and deferential on the dole.

It proved difficult convincing the Valleys that millions in European funds poured into schools, sporting facilities and business grants had actually been a buffer against further poverty.

Immigration and Euroscepticism was a more populist, and easily digested, clarion call.

Welsh commentators clamoured to note that whatever about the brave Scots, even the Northern Irish did not offer the same deference to English populist politics.

Amid the fallout, at least among Welsh nationalists, there is real belief that Scotland will finally push the button on independence and that Northern Ireland will certainly need to redefine its position.

Will "Great Britain" ultimately become slight shorthand for "England and Wales"?

The Welsh were the first of the Brits, and it seems we are likely to be the last.

This isn't the apocalypse - the English just don't want to be part of an EU superstate, writes Brendan Morley

Two friends of mine in London voted for Brexit last week. Both retired schoolteachers, the husband was a head of economics, the wife a head of modern languages, teaching French and German. Her grandparents were Irish. Their son is a futures trader in the City of London.

The couple have a cottage in a French village and the husband now also speaks French fluently.

They love Europe - they just don't want to be in the EU any more.

I was born and reared in Old Trafford, Manchester, and my parents were from Mayo. Like most Mancunians, I am, of course, a Red.

At no time have I ever felt the gulf in understanding between England and Ireland to be as wide, not even during the Troubles. The hysteria in Ireland over Brexit is just staggering.

I was not surprised by the result, as so many left-leaning, middle-class liberals had told me they would vote Leave.

More than 17 million people did so, from all parties and none. The UK has not suddenly fallen to a surge of racist and economically illiterate 'Little Englander' Neanderthals turning their backs on Europe and trashing their own country.

While migration clearly was an issue - net inward migration in the year to March was 330,000, that's the combined populations of Cork, Limerick and Waterford cities in one year - the biggest factor uniting Leave voters was despair that the EU would ever be reformed.

And they just don't want to be part of an EU superstate. That's all.

Anger with the EU is spreading across the continent, if not yet to Ireland - that's the same EU that left Irish taxpayers to pick up the €64bn bill for saving Europe's banking system.

If withdrawal works out for the UK - and Leave voters had factored in a couple of years of economic turbulence - other nations may well follow.

As for the British, they are gone, politically at least, from the EU for good - c'est fini, alles vorbei, it is over. But the time for judgment is at the end of this process, not now.

If you find a bookie offering odds on the UK still being in the single market in 2019, still buying German cars, French wine and Irish beef, but having cut a deal on free movement, take the bet.

The apocalypse is on hold. Get a grip.

Brendan Morley settled in Ireland 16 years ago

Irish Independent

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