Opinion

Tuesday 21 November 2017

This is not the hour for riding tigers

Of most concern now following Britain's vote to divorce the EU is our peace process

nowhere to go: Men stand next to an English flag in the ‘Jungle’ camp for migrants and refugees in Calais after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
nowhere to go: Men stand next to an English flag in the ‘Jungle’ camp for migrants and refugees in Calais after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Fergal Keane

I ran into Mike Nesbitt outside Queen's in the afternoon. He was still reeling. I worked with him when he was a journalist in Belfast more than 25 years ago, when the North was still hostage to the gunmen and the bigots. We both know the value of the journey travelled towards peace.

"I'm in shock," the UUP leader told me. He looked it. Nesbitt had looked his own support base in the eye and told them unionists were better off in the EU. It took political courage. DUP leader Arlene Foster had given the opposite advice. As it happened, a healthy majority in the North went with Nesbitt's view, the same view as the two main nationalist parties. But as with Scotland, there was no opt- out clause in case the national majority saw things differ- ently. I will return to this.

The referendum result was hugely influenced by emotion. The anger of disparate groups in city and countryside propelled the United Kingdom to Brexit. Now that the choice has been made, emotion is flowing the other way. I dread opening my Twitter feed, so relentless are the predictions of Armageddon. I am particularly suspicious of the "day that changed the world" narrative. The world was changing long before anyone put their mark on a ballot paper for the referendum. Change is not made out of one moment but out of an accumulation of steps, some planned and some utterly accidental or enforced.

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