By David Langwallner. November 2019.
Of course there is no practical benefit to Brexit. Indeed our Irish perspective is that the British are jumping off a cliff with no parachute.
However, I am a barrister in turbulent London and I also refute caricature portrayal, by the likes of Fintan O’Toole, of Brexiteers as swivel-eyed loons. He says if it was not tragedy Brexit would be comedy; Village has claimed it is comedy not tragedy. Such deprecations represent patronising failures of imagination: Brexit is a triumph of idealism over pragmatism, of imagination over supineness and of culture over finance. It is not so bad for the nation of shopkeepers to abandon square utility and dour pragmatism.
I have a profound belief in the decency of British people and their institutions which I believe are proving resilient. Lurches – to the right, to the anti-economic, anti-social, anti-environmental, have been abortive. The stock markets and currency are stable. The provision-hoarders have now stood down, too.
The UK is in good shape (and not just in sport and culture). It has a system with solid checks, a vibrant and aggressive press. Unemployment is 3.8%, employment is 76% (Ireland 69%). Annual earnings growth is 3.8%.
Ireland need not panic vicariously for its newly excitable neighbour.
Metternich said that Italy was not a country but an idea. This is abundantly true of the UK. Inconveniently, however, the idea has evolved with modernity and has broken its chains. The UK is taking a stand. That cannot be said of Ireland.
While Ireland has been wrestling with the social and religious conventions that held it back (and arguably finds itself quite comfortable in its new-grown modern skin), we have failed to interrogate our largely neo-liberal economic model.
Britain is demonstrably much less happy with the economic model that grounds it. Britain would not have tolerated the abjection of Ireland’s bailout; nor the dodginess of our prostration before the might of the multinationals on which we have centred our economy.
The UK is united in its abhorrence of the legacy of austerity. Would that Ireland were so progressive. It remains in thrall to the parties of the cuts.
Unlike Ireland Britain has long realised that the EU lost its way a generation ago. Its meting out of doctrinaire and bureaucratic bailout punishments on Ireland and Greece, and of austerity on the already moribund European Economy generally, and its obliviousness to the social side of Economic Union, are inexcusable
Britain is challenging globalism and that is not something to disdain, least of all for Village readers. Its Labour party defies blind globalism, as do the nationalist parties, the Liberal Democrats and most Tories. The ascendant right-wingers, led by perhaps the most dishonest of them all, Johnson, talk the language of unshackled international trade but they are insincere and will not fight for it.
The English want control back. Brexit is the first adventure in post-globalism and internationally the left and the thoughtful of all political hues should embrace it.
Yes the adventure is admittedly inarticulate. And it is a sad truth that freedom from the EU will in no way constitute freedom from the control and standardisation that underpin Economic Unions. In principle divorcing from multilateral norms and the nasty disciplines of trade is welcome.
The deal is a hard Brexit. The UK will exit the customs union and the single market. It has yet to be seen how free it will be to do trade deals with other countries and whether it will follow EU standards on the customs union and single market, and even more precariously, on social, environmental and consumer standards – which are not strictly required by the customs union and single market. As an outsider and a remainer, I fear they may rue the hardness, if not the principle. But that is always the danger with taking a stand.
But as well as admirable principle there are some dramatic political benefits. DUP deference to Tories was doing no-one any good and it is good to see its demise. We are to have an ingenious double-border that will serve Northern Ireland – at least economically – very well.
As for immiserated Scotland, who in Ireland would not hasten its independence?
I do not dispute that the UK has pushed the bounds in dangerous directions. Its indulgence of lies is far greater even than our own. Its society has even great class fissures and educationally it is a dead end. There is a lugubrious cynicism every bit as corrosive as our own. The UK body politic suffers from the triumph of a culture of comedy evident in news programmes such as “Have I Got News for You” which turned Johnson into a cult and the nation into cynics. Scrutiny of character seems like yesteryear’s imperative.
Certainly the gorillas have taken over. But they do not have a majority and their time is up. So much cannot be said of now-complacent and pliantly unradical Ireland.
The UK is on a journey. It does not need a parachute.