Saturday 16 February 2019

Patricia Casey: 'It's embarrassing to watch us stereotype Brexiteers'

Divided we stand: Jacob Rees-Mogg walks past an anti-Brexit protester after the British parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Photo: Reuters
Divided we stand: Jacob Rees-Mogg walks past an anti-Brexit protester after the British parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Photo: Reuters

Patricia Casey

Since I was four years old I have been having a love affair with London. My mother's descriptions of St Martin-in-the Fields, of Hyde Park Corner, of the pit in the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms, stimulated my imagination beyond description. The imagery of London has extended to the rest of Britain and ultimately become reality for me. I was privileged to be able to afford a small flat in London 10 years ago. Because of my strong bond to London and to Britain itself, I am horrified at the stereotyping of the British people that Brexit has stimulated in the coverage of it in Ireland.

Mostly the view here is that Brexiteers are either rich dim-wits or uneducated racists. Progressives they are not, according to the spokespeople in the media. The stereotypical well-heeled, posh toffs such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg wanting Old England to rule the waves are juxtapositioned alongside the working classes of Humberside wishing to quell immigration lest they lose jobs to foreigners.

Yet, many academics voted for the measure. For example, Cambridge-based economist Dr Graham Gudgin and Emeritus Professor of French history Professor Robert Tombs developed a website briefingsforbrexit.com to assist people in understanding the arguments.

Polls showed that while some 32pc of Brexit voters did so for reasons of immigration, the majority voted as they did for other factors. These might include the wish for Britain to retain its independence from a large political behemoth of mainly unelected members. According to a recent study, most Brexit voters were more concerned about identity than about financial matters, believing that the European project encroached upon this.

Yet, my own country, once a world exemplar of hard-fought independence, is now kowtowing to the powers that be in Europe. To even question the European project in Ireland is to be labelled an inward peering regressive. But a country that has no inferiority complex and that is not a sleeveen to diktats imposed by unaccountable bureaucrats has my admiration.

Many years of hearing my mother's romantic stories of London during the blitz, my childhood experience of travelling to Britain for family holidays year in year out for a decade, nine years living there as I became a psychiatrist, marrying an Englishman 35 years ago after a brief romance, having annual trips to the Edinburgh festival for the past 12 years, owning a flat in London now, and spending long periods there for business and pleasure have done nothing to dim my admiration for the British people and their culture. Indeed I am comfortable there, never having experienced any hint of anti-Irish sentiment, even when I anticipated it most.

Attributes that were ostensibly Irish are now British and vice versa. Take religion as an example. The British are now more religious than are the Irish. Religious schools, denominational in ethos, are hugely valued and very prestigious there. Here the Government is doing its best to remove all traces of religion from education and increasingly there are attempts to remove denominational education from Catholic schools.

Members of parliament, even the prime minister, have no difficulty extending thoughts and prayers to the people when national tragedies occur. In Ireland, when similar situations arise, the "p" word is omitted lest it be interpreted as a sign of Catholic Church interference in the affairs of State.

And the Queen's Christmas Day message speaks of the birth of Jesus, while in Ireland the President's message is bland and secular and could be delivered at a horse show.

Sure, the British don't do 'craic' in the way we Irish do, but when we display it to them, by golly do they enjoy it too. They may be slightly reserved when you are first introduced but that fades over time. Their reticence aside, architectural and artistic icons are cultivated even in industrial cities and towns. In Liverpool and Birmingham, old architecture has been preserved. Small municipal galleries, free to enter, have their Lowrys, Monets and Raeburns. The National in Trafalgar Square was founded to enable the masses to access the finest in world art. The people are friendly and accepting and far from being racist are open and warm, at least as far as my personal experience is concerned.

In their villages, thatched houses are preserved and plentiful, not as museum pieces, but as lived in homes with families. We, on the other hand, demolished ours en masse in the 1960s and 1970s when we wanted rid of old Ireland.

Of course the British and their way of life is imperfect. Just as we have gangland killings, so do they. They have the same problems of homeless in their cities. They have liberal abortion laws that destroy the unborn in vast numbers, although ours are now more liberal than theirs.

They have a history that brutally overwhelmed less powerful nations and that engaged in slavery. But one of theirs, Wilberforce, led the way to its abolition while Dickens cast a harsh eye on Victorian poverty. Brit-bashing became a thing of the past when the Troubles ended with the Good Friday Agreement.

Our apparent openness is now under threat as crass stereotypes suffuse our relationship with Britain. It would be ironic if the European project, and a democratic debate about its relevance, fanned the old flames of division.

  • Patricia Casey, consultant psychiatrist Mater Hospital, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry UCD

Irish Independent

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