Tuesday 19 March 2019

Martina Devlin: 'My driving licence will swap a seamless process for a less convenient one ... a metaphor for Brexit in its own minor way'

'Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox currently has a key role to play.' Photo: Reuters
'Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox currently has a key role to play.' Photo: Reuters
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

When I got my first driving licence at 21, it felt like a toehold on the adult world. I remember gazing with awe at that pink and green sheet of paper saying I was valid to drive with it until I was 70 - an impossibly long time away. It would take me into another millennium.

I sat my test in Britain, which is why my licence is a UK one, but it has always felt European, with the words "European Communities model" on the cover. Even those two letters, UK, were printed inside a logo of 12 EU stars - representing unity and harmony among like-minded peoples.

Indeed, the words "driving licence" on the outside are translated into a raft of European languages including Greek, French, German and Spanish.

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That licence has gone with me around the US, Australia, Africa and Europe, as well as Britain and Ireland - it's the document I'm most likely to have on my person at any given time. Dog-eared and Sellotaped together though it is, I value it.

But yesterday I learned I shouldn't expect to use it in Ireland again if a no-deal Brexit happens, as appears increasingly likely. (Although I continue to expect a deal-at-the-death because pragmatism usually trumps ideology or sheer, knuckle-dragging stupidity.)

People such as me are being advised to switch to an Irish version, warned by the Road Safety Authority that our licences will become defunct in this worst-case scenario. That means renewing every 10 years, swapping a smooth and seamless arrangement for a less convenient one. A metaphor for Brexit in its own minor way.

With each passing day, it becomes ever more clear that a hard or cliff-face Brexit will cause upheaval in myriad ways both small and large.

Brexperts cannot keep up with the pace of predicted turmoil - chaos that's at odds with those dreams of taking back control and making Britain great again.

From food and medicine shortages to interrupted manufacturing supply lines - not to mention the prospect of trouble at the Border - Brexit offers no good news story. Not one.

Yesterday, Simon Coveney announced a raft of emergency legislation which he is piloting through the Oireachtas to ensure the least painful transition.

The proposed laws, due to be ready for March 29, are a form of sandbagging aimed at keeping business afloat and allowing people to access healthcare and education in the different jurisdictions.

Worryingly, the British political class isn't making much headway in that.

London-based botanist James Wong tweeted yesterday: "Just tried to order something online from Denmark. Apparently they no longer sell to the UK, as orders accepted now may arrive after March 29 and might not be able to be fulfilled. I can't even get work supplies delivered in the timeframe our government has to sort their mess out."

Another vote in the British parliament is due next Wednesday but, as the European Commission's Jean-Claude Juncker says: "Every time they are voting there is a majority against something, there is no majority in favour of something."

Come what may, it will be a relief when March 29 arrives because it feels as if Britain has been on the point of leaving the EU not for almost three years but forever.

Meanwhile, the leaders of both main parties in Britain are preoccupied with attempting to prevent further defections after nine Labour MPs and three Tories broke away this week. Eleven of the 12 MPs have formed a body - not quite a party - called the Independent Group.

The new grouping's impact is twofold: it further destabilises the political situation in the UK and undermines both Mrs May's and Jeremy Corbyn's respective positions. It may also hasten a general election. So should those politicians have jumped? On balance, yes, because they are standing up for what they believe and questioning the sacred cow of sovereign control.

Brexit, of course, was an emotional rather than a pragmatic vote. And emotions continue to run high.

Brexiteers are in the grip of such powerful feelings they are unable to see the wreckage. They remain irrational, convinced they're on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Perhaps a few years of pain can be expected, they concede, when pushed - to be followed by the desiderata of increased prosperity and autonomy.

How the Tory MP for Swindon can claim the closure of the local Honda plant has nothing to do with Brexit is a mystery. The delusions are epic.

Countries aren't stampeding to strike free trade agreements with Britain. Presumably, Trump aside, they are waiting to see what happens with the EU-UK relationship first.

Yet still myths are peddled by Brexiteers, such as that the EU won't ditch a deal with the world's fifth largest economy. It won't be fifth largest for long after a crash-out. Uncertainty is meting out economic damage and the bulldog spirit won't help to mitigate it.

In general, the British political class continues in disarray, promising to protect British farmers while conversely talking about allowing cheap, hormone-enhanced Brazilian beef and US chlorinated chicken into the country.

Remember Project Fear? It was one of the Brexit slogans which fuelled the Brexiteers' campaign. Project Fear was the omni-answer to every argument advanced by Remainers.

I first heard it during the referendum campaign from a group of London-Irish people who intended voting out.

Aghast, I countered with the peace process, and how an invisible Border had helped to take the gun and gelignite out of politics whereas a hard Border would incite violence. "That's Project Fear," they answered, insouciant in their dismissal of the Troubles reigniting.

But the Border is the issue that won't go away. There is a view in some British circles that the backstop is being used by the Irish as a weapon - on the contrary, it is an attempt to stop weapons being used again.

Political leadership must come from all parties and players now in Britain. Leaving the EU has to happen in an orderly fashion - anything else is irresponsible.

Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox currently has a key role to play. The Withdrawal Agreement won't be renegotiated, no matter how amicable or constructive or frequent are Mrs May's meetings with EU leaders, but the political declaration is where sentences of comfort can be added.

It would be helpful if Mr Cox could assure parliamentarians that something suitable in the declaration about the backstop would be legally binding.

Finally, an extension to Article 50 really needs to happen soon to relieve pressure points. Hitting the pause button facilitates the Angela Merkel method of doing business - giving everyone time to think before irretrievable steps are taken.

Irish Independent

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