Sunday 22 September 2019

Ruth Dudley Edwards: 'It's the Germans we should be worried about, not the Brits'

Why can't the likes of Fintan O'Toole understand that Leave voters just want their independence, asks Ruth Dudley Edwards

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards

I write this from a land imperilled by the Brexiteers "who espouse a romantic notion of returning to the British Empire's glory days, characterised by an independence in trade, free of the shackles imposed by Brussels, while knowing deep down in their hearts and minds that leaving the EU can only mean a much poorer future for most citizens in the United Kingdom".

How typical the blast-from-the-past Thatcherite MP who described the vote for Brexit as "the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom"!

The first quote comes from a letter in yesterday's Irish Times; the second is from 38-year-old computer engineer and lawyer Kemi Badenoch, brought up in Nigeria until she was 16, whose witty and passionate maiden speech last year established her as a rising star in the Tory party.

As someone who voted Leave after much heart-searching - and who has many Remain friends - what really bothers me about most Irish media coverage of Brexit is its sheer ignorance. See, for instance, Fintan O'Toole's analyses swallowed whole by so many.

Fintan is a gifted writer, but if you care about substance rather than style, it makes much of what he writes on his current obsession utterly pointless since he doesn't have a clue about the British.

Mary Kenny, the Irish Independent columnist, like me has lived in England for most of her adult life and listens to both Leaver and Remainer friends. She regards Fintan's new book Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain - which sees the root cause as "the fatal British nostalgia for empire" which has led to a "psychodrama in which the UK is playing out a 50 Shades of Grey scenario" - as doing a disservice to understanding an issue of such huge importance for Ireland as well as the UK. "He picks out various old codgers as antediluvian Brits longing for the past", she tweeted, "while studiously ignoring the diversity" of the cost of those who are also part of the picture.

The only people I know who go on about the British Empire are ignorant Irish nationalists and anti-colonial activists. Bashed by a left-wing educational establishment over decades, the English in particular were taught to despise an imperial past which - with all its deficiencies - is probably the least-worst empire ever and, like Rome, did good as well as harm.

Last year, when the Oxford Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Nigel Biggar, announced a multidisciplinary 'Ethics and Empire' project to test the ethical critiques of "empire" against the historical facts, right-on academics and social media lynch mobs tried to close it down.Trevor Phillips, ex-chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whose parents were West African immigrants, denounced this academic cowardice: "The Stalinist imposition of one reading of history leads to one outcome and that is suppression of free speech."

I am no fan of empire: it is the imperialist aspirations of the EU that drove my Euroscepticism and made me conclude that the United Kingdom and Ireland would be better off out.

As was confirmed by one-time Greek foreign minister Yanis Varoufakis in Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe's Deep Establishment, although the French have the best rhetoric, Germany calls the shots. Greece was sacrificed to German bankers.

Germany passionately wants a strong EU, because it is afraid of itself, but that doesn't mean it wants its authority questioned. Consider the contemptuous way that Angela Merkel opened her arms to a flood of immigrants into the EU without as much as a perfunctory consultation with Germany's partners.

Mary Kenny cites a well-informed book, Paul Lever's Berlin Rules: Europe and the German Way, which demonstrates how the EU "is dominated by Germany, with structure mirroring German structures, its officials nearly always, in the end, subservient to German interests".

Emily O'Reilly, European Ombudsman, wrote a withering report on the "maladministration" involved in rigging procedures so as to push Martin Selmayr, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's chief of staff, into the job of secretary general - the EU's most senior civil service post. The 28-member commission colluded, the EU Parliament complained and demanded O'Reilly's investigation, but her findings could not reverse the appointment.

The British are not anti-immigrant, although many poor people stranded in ill-paid jobs know that it suits business to have an apparently infinite supply of cheap labour in order to keep wages down, resented the government's apparent lack of interest in their plight, were shocked that benefits were paid to immigrants' families overseas, and worried about the increasing pressure on already over-burdened public services, schools, housing sector and so on.

They have no affection for what they see as a protectionist and meddling EU and think like Kemi Badenoch, who says: "As an economic liberal, I want to see Britain trading more freely around the world."

They want their sovereignty back, something the Irish should understand.

The British negotiating strategy has been a complete shambles, its pro-EU civil-service negotiators a fifth-column and Theresa May should be defenestrated for incompetence.

Yet the brilliant negotiators in Ireland and in the EU may well have overplayed their hand. As Sir Christopher Meyer, one-time ambassador to the US, has pointed out, the EU set up the negotiations to fail and it shows.

Such is the resentment of the bullying of their country and prime minister, it would be surprising if Leave didn't win another referendum with a bigger margin.

Look at what's going on in Greece, in Italy, in France, consider the appalling figures of youth unemployment in Spain and Portugal, take note of the way in which Germany controls a commission that is trying to force countries like Hungary to accept immigrants they don't want, while resentful Europeans are voting for some sinister right-wingers.

The UK is very stable and prosperous by comparison. Why would we vote to remain?

Sunday Independent

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