Thursday 17 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'As we hurtle towards the Brexit cliff edge, Ireland's caught in trap that even Houdini couldn't escape'

'It seems futile to point out to Donaldson that the DUP are happy to have different rules from other parts of the UK when it suits them.' Photo: Niall Carson/PA
'It seems futile to point out to Donaldson that the DUP are happy to have different rules from other parts of the UK when it suits them.' Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

'How has it comes to this?"

That was the question asked by Fiona Bruce on BBC's 'Question Time' last week when the show broadcast a Brexit special from Belfast.

It's been 40 years since 'Question Time' first started, a period which has seen Robin Day, Peter Sissons and David Dimbleby take the helm before Bruce took over as moderator.

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Yet it's quite possible this rhetorical question about the current crisis in which we find ourselves remains the single most honest and heartfelt contribution ever made by any of the illustrious presenters.

How has it come to this?

The simple, and horrifying, answer to that complex question is that nobody really knows.

We can put some of the chaos we have witnessed down to hubris. Much of it - but not all - can be explained by a certain stubborn embrace of the echoes of days long past when the British empire could boast the sun never set on its territories.

But things have become much more complex and, frankly, weird than a mere desire for a return to the glory days that were never particularly glorious in the first place.

There were certainly arguments in favour of Brexit, which were motivated by a perfectly reasonable desire for self-determination and the equally understandable craving for control over your own destiny, rather than subsuming your country's sovereignty within a vast, continental super-state.

But when Bruce articulated what everyone else has been thinking - on all sides of the aisle on this debate, by the way - by simply asking 'how has it come to this?', it reminded us we have now entered the political equivalent of fantasy land.

Indeed, it now seems the last shreds of common sense and even self-preservation have all been thrown overboard in favour of a rush, as Leo Varadkar put it, to the rolling cliff edge - with the various main players all competing to be the first lemming to take an Olympic-standard dive over the precipice of no return.

For those of you who have simply become Brexited-out over the last few months and who now look at every new development with a mixture of scorn and weariness, things really aren't as bad you think.

They're actually worse.

To say the political classes in the UK have lost their marbles is to do a disservice to the average marble and to put the current levels of genuinely unprecedented mayhem and confusion into perspective, we now even have Uri Geller offering a solution.

The man who ruined a million spoons, and convinced a generation of kids in the 1980s they were all psychic, has informed Theresa May that: "I feel physically and very strongly that most British people do not want Brexit.

"I love you very much but I will not allow you to lead Britain into Brexit. As much as I admire you, I will stop you telepathically from doing this - and believe me, I am capable of executing it."

Now, as we all know, Geller is a man who has never seen a bandwagon he didn't want to join.

But in what is probably the most depressing response to the most ridiculous intervention in an already ridiculous scenario, many people suffering from Brexit battle fatigue simply shrugged their shoulders.

In fact, such is the air of despondency that some observers have wryly admitted Geller performing his own version of a Vulcan mind-meld on the soon-to-be ex-prime minister of the UK can't be much worse than any of the other, slightly less mad, suggestions that have been put forward.

This is what happens when politicians don't know what they're doing and that's the situation in which we find ourselves.

What we're witnessing isn't some evil conspiracy, or a malevolent grand plan by old Etonians; it's just that nobody knows what is happening, least of all it seems the so-called experts and those politicians busy sharpening their knives behind May's back. Although it should be remembered that some of her enemies, particularly Boris Johnson and his cabal, seem determined to administer the coup de grâce to her face, such is the open warfare between the various Conservative blocs.

Away from the blood-on-the-carpets civil war which has robbed the Tories of any moral or political authority for the next generation at least, Irish eyes will have been further widened by last week's edition of 'Question Time' following the contribution by the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson, whose half-hearted commitment to maintaining a Border-less Ireland was both sinister and a reminder of where his party is coming from.

According to Donaldson, a hard Border would indeed be unfortunate. But an electronic border in the middle of the Irish Sea would be a calamity.

This, he claims, would be a sign that the "mainland" doesn't see Northern Ireland as an intrinsic and important part of the UK and that would be unacceptable.

It seems almost futile to point out to the likes of Donaldson that the DUP are quite happy to have different rules from other parts of the UK when it suits them - they remain the only part of the UK where abortions aren't available, for example.

Frankly, it's hard to escape the impression that despite the usual weasel words we have come to expect from politicians of all stripes, some of the more trenchant Unionists would actually be secretly happy to see a return of the hard Border.

Maybe it reminds them of better days, when they held sway over the six counties.

The 'B' word we're now looking at is no longer just 'Brexit', but 'border'.

As has been pointed out consistently, the EU simply cannot have an open, non-member trade route into their territories. While we fret about the backstop, they worry about a back door into their markets.

Some will say the EU is throwing us under the bus and it's hard to disagree with that assertion.

Others will say they have no choice and the future of the 27 member nations can't be dictated by an Anglo-Irish disagreement of the sort which has always baffled Europeans anyway.

Either way, we lose.

May, who now looks like a punch-drunk boxer, faces the possibility of losing another vote this week, which would signal a full and catastrophic exit.

Even the much vaunted World Trade Organisation rules, seen by many British observers as the least bad of all the bad options, would result in a resumption of check points and guards along the Border.

Forget Uri Geller. They might as well as bring in Derren Brown and David Blaine while they're at it.

But at this stage, even Houdini couldn't figure out an escape plan.

Irish Independent

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