Current Affairs Politics

A Close Encounter Of The Obnoxious Kind With Brexit

Until yesterday I had no intention of writing about a rancorous experience I had with some pro-Brexit visitors from the United Kingdom at a recent two-day business meeting in Dublin. Then I read this extraordinary interview in the UK’s hard-right tabloid newspaper, The Express, with Andrew Bridgen, a controversy-prone MP from the ascendant europhobic wing of the ruling Conservative Party in London, discussing future Irish attitudes to the European Union:

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Mr Bridgen said: “Despite the fact that it is a 96 percent of Irish people claims currently to support the European Union and I think that support will rapidly decline.

“The Republic of Ireland is only going to be four and a half million people. They will be one percent of the EU population.

“They will be the only English speaking nation left in the European Union when we have left.

“They are out in the Atlantic – they are not attached to mainland EU.”

Mr Bridgen said both of Ireland’s biggest trading partners, the US and UK, will be out of the European Union.

He added: “Neither of us will be in the European Union so they trade with the EU less than any other country in the EU. They are going to become net contributors.

“So, for the first time, instead of being paid to be in the club, the Republic of Ireland will be paying to be in a club and that’s a game changer.”

In his comments the Tory politician overlooked the rather awkward fact that Ireland’s combined exports to the rest of the European Union, minus the soon-to-be-departed United Kingdom, are significantly greater than its exports to the UK alone. And that those exports are hugely dependent on the country’s membership of the EU. Likewise, Dublin’s trade deals with Washington are enhanced by its membership of the Continental bloc, with the bureaucrats and diplomats in Brussels doing much of the heavy lifting on trans-Atlantic agreements and regulations. As for the idea that a majority of people in Ireland would turn against Europe in any post-Brexit scenario; the claim is negated not just by the consistent polling on the question but also by the numbers of Irish citizens resident in Britain’s legacy colony in the north-east of the island who are demanding that the contested region remains within the union. The European one, that is.

Bridgen’s spurious words resonated with me following a business meeting at the start of the week with several representatives from a SME firm based in the south-east of England. During a break in the proceedings the question of Brexit came up, raised by the head of the UK delegation, who clearly believed that he would find a sympathetic audience among his Irish counterparts. The middle-aged manager had flagged his politics earlier on when we were discussing matters relating to our sister-company in Germany. He and his colleagues expressed mild surprise when we did not agree with their assessment of the Germans in general as “difficult” or “odd” to work with it; and that we actually had a very fruitful working relationship with our partners in Frankfurt.

So when the subject of Brexit appeared I was prepared for the worse; and I wasn’t disappointed. I won’t get into the details, for reasons of confidentiality, but yes, their support for Brexit mostly related to the question of immigration and, I quote, “the hundreds of thousands who want to come here” (by “here” we presumed he meant Britain, since he and the other tone deaf British guests constantly referred to the “mainland” when discussing potential business operations between our respective companies). The resulting debate with the Pound Shop Farage and his merry band of Ukippers, including the reasons why Europe was “trying to do Britain down”, was cut short when one of my colleagues kicked me underneath the table and the discussion returned to the neutral ground of joint enterprises.

This is anecdotal stuff, of course, but I have never encountered such naked atavism among British business professionals before. And like many Irish people I have had a few uncomfortable moments with guests from Britain, if more out of ignorance than malice. All in all, a decidedly tiresome couple of days.

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15 comments on “A Close Encounter Of The Obnoxious Kind With Brexit

  1. Bridgen’s comments are fascinating and reveal another delusion. The idea is that economic self-interest on the part of the Irish is the key, whereas for Brexiters like himself it is supposed non-economic issues such as self-determination (as he’d see it) that is key. So of course Irish attitudes are only driven by the economics and will change rapidly after Brexit. It’s another condescension.

    That’s some meeting. I used to work with a Anglo-French multinational in the 90s and early 2000s which had a big UK arm and a small Irish outlet. Was over in telford a bit and the UK crew were extremely clear in believing that they should be in charge of distribution on this island rather than the Irish people here. The problem was the founders of the multinational way back in the 50s had known the father of the Irish guy, slept on his floor, gone drinking with him and apart from everything. else couldn’t see why Ireland shouldn’t be its own distribution hub. The English outfit just couldn’t get their head around it.

  2. Bridgen was up on a proven false rape charge. Cyprus and Malta both speak English. Brexit looks grim for Ireland, the begging bowl is being passed to Poland.

    • I though Malta had its own language, basically a version of Arabic, but written in Roman script and influenced by Italian, and no doubt English. And don’t Cypriots speak Greek or Turkish when at home? A back-handed reason for promoting Irish maybe? 😉

      • Maltese is heavily influenced by Arabic. The second language is Italian. Cypriots speak English, Greek is the main language. Obviously Turks speak Turk at home.

  3. Seamus Mallon

    I lived in the UK 86 to 96 and I suppose looking back I think i must have just become used to their disdain for forigners in everyday conversation.But this Easter i was on a break in Normandy with my wife and young grandson staying on a holiday camp. My grandson made friends with a little english girl the same age as him and they were great pals, unfortunately the girls parents decided to call over to us every morning and join us in whatever and wherever we were going.All very good execpt they were the two biggest little englanders Ive ever met and bye the end of the week i was ready to strangle them. the pure venom that came out of them re brexit was unbelivable,worse was at the end of the week when the wife asked me was Dublin in the part of Ireland that they owned.Even more frightening was He was a civil servant in the home office, and she was a serving officer in the Royal Navy.

  4. This kind of speech is indicative of one wing of the Brexiteers – those who think in terms of Anglo-Empire and its reincarnation through Brexit.

    For them Ireland is English-speaking, and the nearest neighbour is the UK, so it’s just perverse that the the RoI doesn’t play along with their imagined community.

    And for them Ireland’s independence from the ‘mainland’ is a temporary aberration.

    • Oilean Toraigh

      Re above, I live in England and by and large I sympathise with the (majority) English instinct for self-government: After all that ought to a rational perspective for an Irish nationalist. Why should they aspire to sovreignty while curtailing ours, and indeed vice versa?

      But I sympathise with your comments: I had someone at work here tell me that a solution to Brexit was that Ireland would rejoin the UK. I was speechless and just mumbled something like ‘that had been tried before’!!

      However, frequently I find the English are acutely over-confident and often lacking in self-awareness with respect to us, and all other neighbours. I wonder can that be attributed to an education system that ends general knowledge at sixteen and compels specialisation in only three subjects for the A level? Coulped with ceaseless, mawkish commerations of 14-18 and 39-45 in their media this a recipie for chauvinism.

      • Very true re the education system in the UK. My mother trained as a teacher in the late 50s/early 60s in England. She remembers one lecturer who had advised the Tories saying quite openly that the Butler act and extension of education in the 40s was a massive social mistake. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_England#1944:_Butler

        I think that tells us a lot about attitudes there to education, and in particular mass education.

        Re sovereignty it’s interesting. I’m happy for the UK (or the English for that in a sense is what we’re talking about) to exercise their sovereignty as full as is possible in the contemporary world, the problem being that the reality in the 21st century and in particular in relation to these two islands that is going to be constrained by other aspects of sovereignty, some of which have little enough to do with the EU (for example the GFA). That’s why I don’t really think a rerun of the referendum is a great (or hugely democratic) idea, but would prefer a shift to EEA/EFTA membership instead by the UK. But what’s clear is that that those who are using this to reshape the UK entirely seem to have at least a hand on the steering wheel whatever the damage to the UK, or indeed to the ROI and Ireland as a whole.

    • ar an sliabh

      I think a lot of it is hope to stay in business. Anyone can see the train is heading for the wall, business is going to get a lot tougher once the Brexit wall is up. Looks more like clinging to your “closest” neighbor trying to make an impact to have them join you. Lucky for us, they are on the train and the conversation is via cell-phone.

  5. paddywack

    Let them enjoy the illusions, it will come crashing down like the 1956 Suez crisis when the UK found out that they were no longer a world power. The 1976 IMF bailout of the UK if £3 Billion, a world record for the time is forgotten, as well as the fact that the UK was known as the “Sick man of Europe”….the facts are clear, the UK will suffer economically and Ireland will take a hit but the onus is on Irish companies to look for new markets within the EU. The UN report that 80% of the world is classed as poor, and that there are 36 wealthy nations , 27 of whom are in Europe. The UK GDP is based on only 20% manufacturing and 80% services , WTO and all trade deals only cover the former. Good luck selling financial services to a farmer in Chad, what he will need will all come from low cost China.

    • “But … But … But, damn it, man, we’re a nuclear power for God’s sake, no arm-waving continentals gonna boss us around … British and Best! Oh yes, just let them try … etc. etc. ad nauseam …”

  6. You refer to ‘Britain’ but I think you may really mean ‘England’ (or possibly ‘Englandandwales’). I think, or at least very much hope, that a Scottish delegation would be much more to your liking 😉

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