Thursday 17 October 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'British have form with ruinous exits'


Stock photo: PA Wire/PA Images
Stock photo: PA Wire/PA Images
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

Sick of it? Aren't we all. But that doesn't change the fact that we have to stay engaged with Brexit because, like it or not (that would be an emphatic not), history tells us that whenever our beloved neighbour catches cold, we invariably take to the leaba with something more serious.

But I'll leave the in-and-outs of backstops and imponderables, like why Arlene Foster loathes Free Staters with such suicidal resolve and how could Jacob Rees-Mogg be taken seriously in any century later than the 18th, to those who have the gifts to work them out.

What has puzzled me most consistently since this unfunny farce started two-and-a-half years ago is how an outward-looking, modern and multi-cultural nation like Britain would want to turn its back on its neighbours and trading partners and retreat into a cocoon of empire nostalgia?

To even ask that question is regarded as elitist. Brexit was the forgotten and marginalised demanding their dignity and jobs back, we're told. Well, good luck with the former because there is absolutely no chance of the latter.

Then there was the pompous guff about sovereignty, whatever that is supposed to mean in the globalised 21st century. Sounds more like the last refuge of a scoundrel to me.

But what followed the referendum is even more perplexing than the result itself. How could a nation, once boasting an empire on which the sun never set, conspire to negotiate its exit so haplessly?

Much of it, I know, is down to a civil war among obnoxious Tory ultras, many of whom are independently wealthy and regard this simply as ideological semantics.

But that doesn't explain the incompetence and arrogance at the core of Britain's retreat from the world. A book by historian Alex von Tunzelmann, however, just might.

I happened to be reading her compelling tome 'Indian Summer', about Britain's messy withdrawal from India in 1947, for another reason altogether when it reminded me of how our neighbour has made a habit of ill-judged departures that have backfired spectacularly.

Then prime minister Clement Atlee dispatched Lord Mountbatten to India with instructions to get Britain out of the subcontinent by June 1948.

But Dickie Mountbatten brought the date forward by 10 months, rushing the partition of India and Pakistan, and the country descended into the sort of wanton violence and mayhem that he had been sent there to prevent.

Bizarrely, the task of dividing the country, primarily between Hindus and Muslims, was bestowed on a hapless London barrister, Cyril Radcliffe, who had never been east of Paris before.

Radcliffe, given five weeks by Dickie to wrap it all up, later admitted he would have needed two years at least and that he had to work with out-of-date maps and census statistics. No matter how astutely decolonisation was handled, it was always going to be traumatic and violent, but Britain made a bad situation decidedly worst.

In what is known as India's holocaust, a million died and another 15 million were displaced. Brexit, in comparison, is a towering triumph.

A good drop of rain would not go astray

A man of many talents, I was honoured with the task of putting the washing out on the line the other day.

It was damp, windless and hovering grey clouds suggested that my task was a fruitless one.

No sooner were the shirts and undies out but they were back in again. Wetter. But I didn't whinge. Because the deluge was badly needed.

A stroll around Vartry Reservoir a few weeks ago cured my precipitation-phobia. The place was parched, dehydrated and in desperately in need of a drink.

Let it rain. Please.

Irish Independent

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