Oops

by Maria on November 9, 2019

Historic apologies get a lot of pushback, both from those who point out that saying sorry only happens when everyone who did it is dead, and nothing is ever learned, and from the fundamentally unapologetic amongst history’s apparent winners. Apologising for something you’ve just done or are about to do takes a lot more guts. But I’ve been wondering over the past couple of weeks whether Brexit negotiations with Ireland especially, and with the rest of the EU would have gone differently if at the beginning of major speeches, press conferences and working meetings the UK interlocutors had had a policy of starting with something like’

“We’re sorry. We know you didn’t ask for Brexit and that it harms you and costs you. We’re still doing it, but we acknowledge and are sorry about its unasked for consequences for others.”

And then getting on with the business of the meeting. Of course, to even conceive of acknowledging the harm and cost of brexit to others would require fundamentally different people to have been in charge. But even the act of saying this might have changed the understanding of those imposing their harms on the rest of us, and would certainly have done a lot to make other countries and institutions want to play nice. We’re emotional creatures, at the end of the day, and it’s more than just manners to acknowledge the harm we cause to others. The life you save just might be your own, etc. etc.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Declan Kenny 11.09.19 at 11:50 am

Most families don’t apologise for the drunk, fumbling, mumbling uncle at Christmas time, either, to be fair. They just get on with things and hope he doesn’t make a complete ass of himself, and by extension, others.

And as you adroitly point out above, if different people had been in charge, the whole sorry mess wouldn’t have happened anyway.

Might go back and watch ‘Inception’ again. I feel I might have a better handle on it!

2

Hidari 11.09.19 at 11:55 am

Well it’s a lovely idea but we still have that ‘1000 years of British imperialism’ to deal with, which would tend to suggest that nothing of the sort would happen, and that it is not conceivable that it would happen.

Amusing story that may or may not be true: it was related by Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You.

Apparently (or allegedly) this was to be the first big meeting between Gerry Adams/Martin McGuinness and the British Prime Minister (I think it was Major, could have been Blair). Anyway, apparently just inside the hallway there is a huge portrait of Margaret Thatcher. Some minor civil servant pointed out that this might not be the most tactful thing to have facing the Sinn Feinn delegation as they walked in. So there was a hurried confab and they all decided that an innocent replacement portrait must be found. One who could cause no offence.

So after this meeting, of extremely well educated English public schoolboys, they decided that the best thing to do was replacement the offensive portrait with a giant portrait of…..Oliver Cromwell.

That’s how deep the ignorance goes.

(This story is of course probably not true, but it ought to be).

3

Maria 11.09.19 at 1:22 pm

:-0 forever…

4

CP Norris 11.09.19 at 1:26 pm

I don’t see why that would make a difference. The problems haven’t been because the UK’s counterparties haven’t been cooperative. They’ve been because the UK negotiators had no idea what they really wanted. Closed borders, except open. Free trade, except protectionism.

Ireland hasn’t been willing to exit the EU, which I suppose would solve many of the UK’s problems, but no amount of apology and politeness would have changed that.

5

Thomas 11.09.19 at 1:42 pm

Not just that it would have taken different kinds of people to apologise; Brexit was and is only ever advocated by people either ignorant of or wilfully blind to its consequences. The moment you acknowledge those consequences you miraculously stop being a Brexiteer. Anybody about to do the deed has no inkling of the damage that’s about to happen or that there might be anything to say sorry for..

(That said, the single most amazing thing to me about the days after the referendum was seeing people who I’d up until then assumed to be grown-ups casually suggesting that Ireland might like to join us outside the EU, perhaps accepting a status like Scotland’s, graciously bowing to London’s overlordship. I simply had no idea people were so ignorant.)

6

Dipper 11.09.19 at 4:17 pm

“We know you didn’t ask for Brexit and that it harms you and costs you.” Yes. I think that would have helped, and something along those lines should have been said, possibly might harm you …

Noteable that when an actual Leaver, as in Johnson, not a Remainer trying to guess what Leavers think, as in May, got to the negotiating table and sat down with Varadkar, a proper Brexit-shaped Withdrawal Agreement appeared.

7

hix 11.09.19 at 4:51 pm

Maybe Ireland should also issue an apology for staying before every negotiation. “We are very sorry we based our entire economy on tax evasion of an unprecdented scale, which is on that scale is only possible with EU membership, so we want to stay anyway since it is good for us even so we just massivly harm all other members as well as the rest of the world”.

8

Alex SL 11.09.19 at 10:51 pm

Dipper,

I know it never seems to make a difference, but AFAIK the “proper, Brexit-shaped” deal was for all practical purposes May’s minus the only major concession she got from the EU in an attempt to safeguard the Union.

Otherwise, what CP Norris and Thomas wrote.

9

J-D 11.10.19 at 1:53 am

Hidari

I searched for more information about that story online and couldn’t find it but I did find a story both similar and different and wondered if it was the one you were thinking of.

Here’s the story I found:
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ahern-says-he-did-not-leave-cook-s-office-over-cromwell-1.893792

To sum up:
An Irish historian wrote a book about Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland and included in the introduction an anecdote about Bertie Ahern, who at the time had recently taken up the position of Taoiseach, storming out of the office of Robin Cook, who at the time had recently taken up the position of Foreign Secretary, on account of the display of a portrait of Oliver Cromwell.
Bertie Ahern himself, speaking at the book launch, denied that he had walked out; this is the way he told the story: ‘After the delegation and I arrived at Mr Cook’s office, there is no doubt Cook noticed our delegation’s discomfort, particularly mine. Cook asked me how I felt and was a bit taken aback with my forthright reply.’

Told that way, the story still features British* or English ignorance of the strength of Irish feeling about Cromwell, but without the added feature of a specific choice to feature his portrait without the precaution of checking on the probable reaction.

* Is there any particular Scottish feeling about Cromwell? or Welsh?

10

Mark Pontin 11.10.19 at 6:27 am

hix wrote: ““We (Ireland) are very sorry we based our entire economy on tax evasion of an unprecedented scale, which is on that scale is only possible with EU membership … (though it will )massively harm all other members as well as the rest of the world”.

Good catch, as far as it goes.

But while Ireland’s enablement of all that tax evasion by US corporates like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others is indeed massive —
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ireland_as_a_tax_haven
— to a large extent it’s made possible because the City of London is the next step in the chain whereby US corporate money is routed from Ireland to wherever its owners want it to go.

Furthermore, the City’s part in triggering Brexit is hard to understand but is clearly significant.

Yes: on the one hand, London banks will lose business to Europe; on the other, the ’cause a crash and cash in’ vulture capitalist contingent exists, though is highly overrated as a Brexit causal factor. However, the primary reason that parts of the British Establishment were prepared to push for Brexit in 2016 has to be the EU’s FTT (financial transaction tax), proposed in 2014, along with other regulatory measures designed to siphon some of the enormous sums of money that now go through the City to the EU.

Here in 2019, real world estimates are that 32-36 percent of all financial services on planet Earth are still done via the City of London and the UK’s dependencies and crown colonies, whereas by comparison just 19 percent go through Wall Street.
https://www.taxjustice.net/2017/09/19/city-london-capital-invisible-empire/

Moreover, the City of London as an international financial center dates back to the 14th century (and indeed it’s been a center in Britain back to Roman times) and it was the effective headquarters around which the British empire was structured, as City banks provided the financing for the empire and collected the interest from the colonies.

Indeed, if we take the view that the British empire was actually the empire of the City of London, the empire has arguably never ended, but merely mutated into a new form to adapt to the current global situation. It’s done this before: the British empire of the Victorian 19th century with its focus on India and China, forex, was a very different beast than the empire of a hundred years before, which was focused on the West Indies and the colonies in the New World.

Let’s bring this back around to where we started, with the failure of UK negotiators to be humble, diplomatic and apologetic in pursuing Brexit.

The City has endured for seven centuries as a global power center, far longer than most countries in Europe have existed with their current borders and constitutions. The odds are that the City will outlast the EU. With that in mind, while it certainly doesn’t excuse UK negotiators’ arrogance and incompetence, it perhaps in part explains it. After all, if you were a disinterested observer, on which side would you bet – the City or the EU?

11

Maria 11.10.19 at 9:34 am

I certainly expect and hope Ireland’s role in corporate tax-dodging is made to end as a quid pro quo to the EU 27’s support through the brexit disaster. It is a bit of a speck in the eye compared to the log that is Brexit, though.

12

J-D 11.10.19 at 9:35 am

Most families don’t apologise for the drunk, fumbling, mumbling uncle at Christmas time, either, to be fair. They just get on with things and hope he doesn’t make a complete ass of himself, and by extension, others.

The families that have them (and not all families do: where did the stereotype come from?) don’t generally put them in charge of the family business (if there is one).

Now I come to think of it, I’m reminded of this:

13

nastywoman 11.10.19 at 11:03 am

@10
”on which side would you bet – the City or the EU”?

Now isn’t that the utmost interesting question – and as I absolutely love betting –
I bet on both.

I bet on London as – as I now so many times posted that London is actually ”the EU” -(not only because of it’s 700 000 French BUT also ALL these other major European communities there)
AND I bet on the EU – as ”the engines” -(the motors) – still HAVE to come from EU countries in order to be put into a Bentley or Rolls -(if y’all understand the Parabel)

So it will be the EU (London) and the EU (Europe) STILL together – with a lot more bürokratic idiocy – which will punish all the idiots who wanted some ”Brexit” –
(which in reality never ever can be… may I say ”executed”?)

Recently I wrote, how the USA does even regime change in Germany and replaces old governments, which became a little too independent, with new crews, who made uncle Sammy a better offer.

14

nastywoman 11.10.19 at 11:06 am

and please discard the nonsense about ”Recently I wrote… – as it was some kind of ”leftover cut-out” of Internet nonsense.

15

Maria 11.10.19 at 1:00 pm

I’ve deleted some bad-tempered comments.

16

nastywoman 11.10.19 at 9:05 pm

”I’ve deleted some bad-tempered comments”.

I hope my comment that I bet on ”the city” AND on the EU – as a response to Mr. Pontin’s question ”on which side would you bet – the City or the EU”? – wasn’t ”bad tempered?” –
as I wrote it very good tempered?

17

politicalfootball 11.11.19 at 10:16 pm

Noteable that when an actual Leaver, as in Johnson, not a Remainer trying to guess what Leavers think, as in May, got to the negotiating table and sat down with Varadkar, a proper Brexit-shaped Withdrawal Agreement appeared.

Isn’t there considerable dissent on the Leave side for Boris’ proposal?

The Washington Post, for instance, reported this:

Polling firm YouGov reported that 30 percent of Britons favor Johnson’s deal, 17 percent want to get out without a deal and 38 percent want to remain, with the final 15 percent unsure.

Is that significantly different from the way May’s proposal was received?

18

diablevert 11.12.19 at 9:05 pm

A world in which a British government would preface Brexit negotiations with an apology to the Irish would be a world in which the British government would have remembered four things:

1) They share a land border with the EU on the island of Ireland
2) They signed a treaty pledging to keep that border open
3) Ireland is an independent nation
4) The Irish, on the whole, despise them

That third one in particular has been slipping the British mind for decades, the fourth for centuries. The only way to slice the knot of N.I. and still have one’s precious clean Brexit would have been to decide forthrightly from the beginning to fuck over either the G.F.A. or the DUP. Hard land border or sea border you can pick from, but a border there must be. They should have fucked the DUP, it was by far the least costly solution, the rest of the British don’t give a fuck about unionists and never have. Instead they’re going for muddle and shambles.

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