An interesting discussion on Brexit chaired by the Scottish newspaper columnist Lesley Riddoch, featuring the Irish author Fintan O’Toole and his English counterpart, Anthony Barnett. The main focus of the video recording is on England and the possible origins of its exaggerated europhobia.
As an aside, in relation to an audience question on the Irish reaction to the British decision to leave the European Union, I had my own discussion on this matter quite recently with four politically-engaged career women in their mid-twenties from what is euphemistically known in Ireland as “respectable families”. Despite their affluent middle-class backgrounds, I was surprised by the strength of their well-informed feelings on Britain and its behaviour during Theresa May’s withdrawal negotiations with the EU. Their interpretations were wholly negative, much of it based on the preponderance of racist sentiment publicly expressed by a subset of pro-Leave voters, commentators and politicians in England. Added to this was their disgust that the “misogynistic” and “homophobic” Democratic Unionist Party or DUP had been “handed” significant influence over the Conservative Party government in London.
What I wasn’t expecting to hear was the observation that if the UK’s Brexit plan led to the revival of a hard border around the Six Counties at the behest of the DUP and Tory Brexiteers, resulting in renewed political or economic uncertainty for this island, the only viable solution for the country would be to “…take back the north”, to much nodding of heads and declarations of agreement. Indeed, it was suggested that the British and the “Loyalists” would be the ones to blame for “restarting the Troubles”.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask what precisely was meant by “take back” the north, though its forceful nature and immediate popularity certainly makes for some interesting speculation. Was it a reference to the need for a referendum on reunification in the event of a hard Brexit by the United Kingdom? Or was it a willingness to countenance the use of different methods by others to achieve national unity?
Have we moved on so far in cultural time and political space from the era of the Troubles that it has become simply another chapter in the history books to a generation of men and women almost brusquely confident and comfortable in their Irish and European identity, young people who will have no truck with the toxic British interference of old in Ireland’s affairs? Or those who would seek to make an accommodation with it?