At least you can leave

by Maria on January 31, 2019

London is the city of leaving do’s. There’s a real push on to get out before it all gets worse. This morning I was chatting with a Swedish friend who leaves on Tuesday, telling her how much freer and more energetic she’ll feel once she’s not carrying around the mental load of daily FUD that comes from just living here, now. My friend cut across the faux cheery bullshit and said “I don’t feel safe here, any more. There’s no limit to what they can do.”

There’s a conversation I’ve had with several British friends. We’ll all be moaning about Brexit affecting us and how the UK’s dysfunctional politics means there is no way to express this electorally, and then they’ll say; “But you’re lucky. At least you can leave.”

I go back and forward on that one. For British friends, living here is a one-shot deal. If Britain leaves the EU, they’re locked in on an island with people who say they’d rather starve than share air with immigrants like me, and who’d rather “send back” anyone brown-skinned. The festival of racism declared officially open by the referendum will go on travelling from town to town, finding new people to give shit-kickings to. Being British and liberal or on the left is painful, with Brexit in sight. The country’s remaining public services will probably fail and its already punitive social safety net be gathered up in the vicious, weakened hand of the state to be used solely as a whip.

If you’re British and can’t rustle up an Irish or Italian granny, you’re trapped however bad it gets. (Actually, you can still move to Ireland, as long as the hodge podge of reciprocity that goes with the Common Travel Area and Government of Ireland Act survives.) And your children, herded into forcibly privatised academies and made to rote-learn and silently face the wall for hours on end, all the better to prepare them for work in the Amazon warehouse – well they can forget about even dreaming of learning or living abroad. So yes, you have lost much, more than most of us yet know. And you worry as much as we do about martial law and what to do if the insulin runs out, but you’re not afraid, not like my Swedish friend is.

You’re not going to find your work contract isn’t being renewed because your employer “can’t take the chance” that you won’t be permitted to work here after Brexit. You won’t be turned away from viewing a basement flat because you’re foreign and the landlord “doesn’t want to risk it”. You won’t be sent away from the pre-natal clinic or refused chemotherapy unless you can document that you’re entitled to treatment, however much tax you’ve paid. You won’t be threatened with credible violence for speaking English in a foreign accent on public transport. You won’t refuse hot soup or a hostel bed when it’s below zero because you believe, correctly, that local authorities will tell the police or immigration enforcement where to find you so you can be deported. You won’t hesitate about reporting rape or domestic violence for the same reason.

These are just the real-life experiences of other EU citizens in the UK at the moment. If these examples seem unlikely to you, then widen your reading or your circle of acquaintance. The experiences of non-EU immigrants are far, far worse.

This week’s Immigration Bill, voted through easily as Labour flopped around between abstaining and then at the last minute only weakly whipping votes, worsens the conditions of all immigrants while pretending to equalise their mistreatment. From April 1, if Europeans don’t earn over £30,000 (more than many public service key-workers), they aren’t welcome. From April 1, our legal status will match our current cultural status as fully taxed and legally liable non-citizens tolerated – barely – as long as we earn 15-20% more than the average worker.

I wrote before about how, when a country thinks it’s being clever by weighing and measuring people by their current market value, it’s being a) economically illiterate and b) squandering the good will every relationship relies on. But I have to admit I also find it galling to be looked down on by a political class whose privilege is so iron-clad and life experience so narrow that they’ve never worked outside the single, uniform architectural style of their private school, university and parliament. The places they move through as they move through life merge into one single neo-Gothic space where it always smells of polished wood and where arcane customs make People not Like Us feel foolish and illegitimate.

Britain’s leaders hated the EU not because of “sovereignty” but because it’s not designed to make them feel special. There is no woolsack in Brussels and Strasbourg. There is no cavalry. The constitution is something you just pull down from the shelf and read. Britain’s leaders despise international institutions because in those spaces they’re a generic Minister for Justice or Head of Government among many, not The Home Secretary, not The Prime Minister. They can’t bear to feel generic and interchangeable, distinguished only by their knowledge and ability, hamstrung by their limited language skills. They joke that appointing someone to be a European Commissioner – several of whom have spending power greater than whole governments – is just how you get rid of troublesome politicians. They complain about the lack of ‘magic’ and ‘history’ in the European institutions to mask their anxiety and anger at still being expected to produce good work outside of the ultimate English cradle to grave comfort zone. They are the ultimate snowflakes. They wouldn’t last half an hour as an immigrant anywhere. A n y w h e r e. And “they” can often include the Labour front bench, too.

So yes, I feel terrible for British friends who appear to be stuck with these mediocrities. They must feel powerless, albeit not as powerless as the European citizens living here, paying taxes and subject to laws they don’t even have the symbolic, FPTP-fixed right to vote on.

But at least I can leave. And I’m Irish, so I have more rights than other Europeans, at least for now. Maybe it is hypothetically better for EU27 people in the UK because they can leave, but I want to get it down here in writing that having their citizenship stolen in a vote they were barred from participating in, having to apply to continue living in the life they built without local knowledge or networks, being administratively plucked out of that life and placed in the maw of the “hostile environment”, dealing day to day with xenophobia that can flick from mere verbal abuse to violence at any moment, and knowing in their bones that their future ability to access healthcare, education, pensions and social welfare is going to be whittled away until it is nothing; these are objectively worsening their material conditions of life. The hypothetical ability to leave does not mitigate this worsening, especially for those locked in here with British partners or children.

I don’t say this when I’m told that at least I can leave, because I think everyone’s pain under the yoke of Brexit is significant, and pain that comes from different causes – some metaphysical, some legal/administrative and cultural – can hurt to the same degree, even if in different quality. And also; divide and conquer is awful and is the problem, not the solution. And also; if you want to see how sociopathic UK politics is, witness its utter indifference to the material worsening of the conditions of British people living in other EU states, caused by Brexit. It’s not that they don’t care about us. They just don’t care, full stop.

There is of course another dimension to this; the vile, ignorant and arrogant way UK politicians have allowed Brexit to harm its nearest neighbour and erstwhile closest ally in Brussels, Ireland. I’m not going to catalogue it all. Fintan O’Toole diagnoses it quite well. A friend of some of us at CT, Dearbhail McDonald, writes in today’s Guardian about what the backstop really means to Northern Ireland. And the heretofore hard-right Tory talking point of ‘why don’t you just “re-join” the UK and make our border problem disappear for us please’ is now, apparently, a reasonable question for a flagship news programme to put to the minister of a sovereign state. It isn’t polite, or perhaps even possible, to express how angry this makes me, as an Irish person who lives in the UK.

One anecdote, though. Last summer I went to the official Irish twentieth anniversary celebration of the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement. It was held in the Barbican in London and featured a programme of poetry, images and music commemorating the Troubles and marking the losses that were to some small extent redeemed by the peace. At the drinks afterward I peered around the room and asked the British friend whose plus one I was – and who knew pretty much everyone there – where the UK government reps were. Not here, came the answer. They were invited but they hadn’t come.

The UK government snubbed the whole anniversary, not just that event. In fact, a few weeks before the anniversary, some British embassies around the world – prompted by questions from their host countries about what they’d be doing to mark the GFA – got in on last-minute celebrations with local Irish embassies. No shade on them, they belatedly made the effort and I’m sure it was appreciated. But for Official UK the GFA was to be ignored lest it highlight the reckless chances the government was taking with peace. (It was ignored also because the government’s majority is propped up by the biggest political party in Northern Ireland to have rejected the peace process, and also because Tories hate it as British sovereignty is the only sovereignty in the world that doesn’t stink.)

So when, as happened a couple of weeks ago drinking tea in the house of a dear friend who broke off from our mutual complaints about Britain’s current dysfunction to say, not for the first time, “At least you can leave”, I tend to say something like; ‘On top of our fears for our legal situation here as Europeans, it’s hard to imagine the hurt and anger of Irish people about how the UK is treating our country and its fragile peace, but please know that these feelings are considerable’.

I don’t say ‘I know you feel bad but your country is shitting all over mine and we didn’t vote for ANY of this and your media is full of racist xenophobic crap about my people that I thought you all grew out of in the late nineties already and you only occasionally get called a saboteur whereas I am a dirty economic migrant every day of the finite number of days I have to be alive that I am squandering in this hostile land but I don’t want us to fight about this because I love you and also most of my European friends are leaving or have already left’, because while this is something I feel, it’s not all of it.

I think about leaving all the time. But there are two of us and one of us has a salaried job here (working on Brexit, of all things. Oh Life’s Irony, you are such a melodramatic asshole.) We have a house we probably couldn’t sell, now, and anyway, sterling is worth so little elsewhere. And though I’m clearly no longer considered part of Team UK, I’m still part of the conversation, in a small way. Emotionally, intellectually and culturally, I’ve invested a lot, here. But I think about leaving all the time. All. The. Fucking. Time. I went away for a few days last week and coming back here and reading the news felt like taking a yoke chained to a rock and placing it on my shoulders and walking up a hill not because I wanted to get to the top but because the hill was the only thing there was.

I think about the freedom from the mental Brexit load I would have elsewhere, from the psychological Brexit tax. I wonder about other countries with functional progressive agendas I could be part of, minus the political antipattern of this toxic mess, and, hey, nicer weather. I dream about living somewhere with a workable health system that could look after a bunch of issues that hold me back, day to day. I imagine living somewhere actively pleasant where I’d invite my parents to spend each January, the generosity of the climate adding years to all our lives, the lessening of the grey-faced hustle that characterises the southeast of England opening up time and leisure to share all those conversations I’ll probably regret never having.

But I’ve moved countries at least a half a dozen times already and I know what it takes. I want to write books now, and country-moves are to all writers what babies are to women-writers; they cost you a couple of years and a shit-ton of money and about one book each.

At least I can leave. At least I can leave. They say Lisbon’s the new Berlin, right? Maybe staying’s the new leaving.



oldster 01.31.19 at 6:16 pm

I have never before watched a country descend into such madness that it commits suicide right before my eyes.

Even though I know that this madness was crucially and decisively aided by Russian money and interference, there is enough home-grown UK madness that I am still utterly baffled by it.

This unique historical tragedy is exacerbated by the utter failure of the US to help (it too the victim of Russian interference and nativist madness), as well as by the utter failure of the opposition party to offer any meaningful opposition. If in place of Trump and Corbyn there were level-headed allies and statesmen, it all might be going differently.

I have lived in England, off and on over the last seven decades, for five years of my life. I am saddened by its descent into madness. It’s like watching an old friend become a meth-addict, then sell of all of their furniture to feed the addiction, then mug and beat their remaining friends for a bit more money, and then finally turn to chewing off their own fingers in some addled, self-destructive rage. After the pity comes the revulsion; after your friend is far enough gone, it’s no longer your friend, just a frenzied shell.

My condolences to those who did not bring this on themselves, but had it brought upon them, whatever their nationality may be.


bjg 01.31.19 at 6:45 pm

A superb article; thank you. bjg


BruceJ 01.31.19 at 7:15 pm

“the utter failure of the US to help”???

Trump’s svengali Steve ‘My favorite philosopher is a fascist hero’ Bannon was in the Brexit campaign machinations up to his greasy eyeballs.

Trump’s ascendancy and Brexit are two sides of the same ruble…with the goal of destablilizing the West in the face of fascist movements like Putin’s.


steven t johnson 01.31.19 at 7:37 pm

When I talked to kids about wave motion, I tried to be careful about using the example of waves at the beach. So very many of them had never been, I didn’t want to embarrass them. It really is unconscionable to deprive youth of their dreams of living and working abroad. I had some vague thoughts about, what was it? Something, something, Greece, something? Forget that! This was a powerful and heart-felt evocation of the moral values of the EU supporters.


e.a.f. 01.31.19 at 8:39 pm

Great article. Really gives me a clearer understanding of what is going on in G.B.
From what I understand, what those in favour of Brexit hate, isn’t going to change. Many of the pro Brexit , in my opinion are racist. Now you can get rid of those from Europe, but how do they plan to get rid of people of colour who have lived in the U.K. for a hundred years or more, or those who are born in the U.K. or have taken out citizenship? Perhaps you plan to do what Trump and his ilk are going to try, implement laws which will revoke citizenship, so they can deport people Latinos, for that matter all people of colour.

Looking for a new country to live in, Canada perhaps? The west coast of British Columbia has a nice climate, although housing costs are high, by our standards, but we do have teacher shortages in Canada. IF you look around at our police forces, you will also notice some “British” accents. Some of the cities are looking for new cops. RCMP is short staffed (but best to be white and male–yes its racist and sexist)


Declan Kenny 01.31.19 at 9:13 pm

Great piece, but a hard read. As a fifty-something, the product of an Irish father and English mother and holder of dual nationality, I admit I find it hard to recognise that England. But you are clearly living it, and it’s clearly ugly. To the bone.
Alas, I fear returning to Ireland may not be the answer either. It’s not a whole lot better here. Though I suppose you could take comfort in the fact that most of our civil service is just incompetent, as opposed to vicious. I wish you the best. And look forward to reading your book.


Omega Centauri 01.31.19 at 9:26 pm

I hope it is just that you are massively overreacting, as I would be -we must share this aspect of our personalities. But, its not clear how things are going to evolve once the damages from Brexit become known to the average Joe Sixpacks. Will they blame the immigrants whose presence “Made us do this stupid self destructive thing”?

Much of it feels like we across the pond have felt for two years now. But we think we’ve probably seen the worst of it. But have we?


sean 01.31.19 at 9:59 pm

thanks Maria. I’ve already left, but thanks.


John McGowan 01.31.19 at 10:27 pm

Thank you. I deeply appreciate this post, even as I bemoan the way Brexit, like too many of the recent disasters in US and UK politics, is a river coming downstream at flood stage, inexorably moving toward its disastrous conclusion with no one seemingly able to do a thing to avert it. Madness, indeed.


Faustusnotes 01.31.19 at 10:43 pm

I hate to pile on, but I wonder how quickly your limited extra rights as an Irish person will be eroded if the troubles restart? The UK was vicious towards Irish people 30 years ago and I see no reason they won’t go back to that mindset …


MichaelC 01.31.19 at 11:26 pm

This is so sad. That is, you have taken me beyond my rage and down to the sadness.


Zarniwoop 01.31.19 at 11:47 pm

I agree with everything you say. But those of us who are British and brown face most of that plus the being stuck on this island part.

Don’t get me wrong I am fighting for you guys every day. But every so often I just sit back and think that the most racist part of brexit is that I would never ever get citizenship of another European country by ancestry whereas every prominent brexiteer seems to have an escape route.


RobinM 02.01.19 at 2:54 am

Is this–I quote from a piece written by Richard Tuck and Christopher Bickerton–wrong?

“The Common Travel Area existed long before the UK and the Republic of Ireland joined the then-EC in 1973. In effect, Britain and Ireland have always enjoyed what in the Nordic countries is called a Passport Union, and as long as Ireland remains outside Schengen there is no reason why that should not continue. Citizens of the Republic will continue to enjoy all the rights in the UK they have always possessed, including the right to work without a permit and the right to vote in all elections including those for Parliament (in this respect unlike, it should be observed, other EU citizens resident in the UK). “


Robert Bennett 02.01.19 at 3:13 am

Britain has always been nasty and selfish. It has invaded more that 4 out of 5 countries in the world. Even the so-called welfare state of the early 1950’s was financed by stolen oil from Iran. Also, they were never committed to the EU and joined just to cause division and to be a glove puppet of the USA.
As Henry John Temple said “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”.


bad Jim 02.01.19 at 4:56 am

(Hearty applause for a masterful performance)


Niall McAuley 02.01.19 at 6:46 am

Is this wrong? No-one knows.

The CTA is more of a gentleman’s agreement between the UK and Ireland than a treaty, they agree we are not “foreign”, since after all, we are one of the Home Nations.

But with Brexit happening, all bets may be off. If they actually crash out, things are going to get very bad indeed, and no-one knows what will happen.


Maria 02.01.19 at 7:10 am

Omega – “I hope it is just that you are massively overreacting, as I would be -we must share this aspect of our personalities.” Yes, my life is essentially fine and I hope I turn out to be over-reacting – that would be terrific! – but otoh all those examples of ways people are being effected are real and people are really suffering. So I feel for them and am frightened for them, even though my life is essentially fine – apart from the psychic cost of living here, probably similar to many under Trump.

And as Zarniwoop gently points out, white immigrants in the UK have it better in some ways than British-born PoC. I think all of us ‘others’ fully expect more hatred and blame to come our way as the consequences of brexit really hit.

Faustus, absolutely, Irish ppl in UK are probably making all sorts of assumptions about our special status, and as we see with the GFA the profound, legal-historic promises that status is based on can disappear overnight. RobinM, the CTA does indeed pre-date EU membership and will take at most an act of parliament (by some bets a mere statutory instrument) to remove. Some legal work commissioned by north London traveller associations about a year after the vote showed that the guarantees Irish enhanced citizen status is based on were far shakier than assumed, and I’ve seen more analysis recently that bears this out. (sorry, references are amiss) As both history, commonsense and the treatment of the backstop show, UK assertions of good faith are pretty worthless.


novakant 02.01.19 at 7:49 am

Thank you, Maria. I feel pretty much the same – it’s heartbreaking. The only thing that gives me hope is that half of the British people – and everyone I know personally – seem to be utterly opposed to all this nonsensical nastiness. And 50% @ssholes and idiots is probably quite a common ratio in any country.


Chris Bertram 02.01.19 at 7:55 am

One thing we need to hang onto in all this is that there are (at least) two Britains. One is the imperial nostalgic elderly white one (driven to rage under Cameron by gay marriage, for example) and the other is the more cosmopolitan younger Britain of the cities. And there were 48% of us, and probably a majority demographically now. This rather gets lost in the endless cultural essentialist think-piece narratives about “the British”. Of course, I don’t want to make out that the better Britain is without its problems, free of racism and inequality etc, it isn’t. But it is a lot better on those liberal dimensions than most EU states outside NW Europe are. Even if black or brown Britons could get an EU passport, Italy, Poland, or even Denmark aren’t necessarily appealing destinations. One Britain has been an endless source of problems in Europe and now again for our Irish friends; the other can be a force for relative good, if and when we come back in, and particularly if the Britain of Farage, Johnson et al can be dealt a serious defeat.


J. Bogart 02.01.19 at 8:26 am

Why slander the mediocre?


Zarniwoop 02.01.19 at 8:48 am

Actually Maria, having reread your piece it is nowhere fucking near as bad for me.

And Chris is right. Whatever else the UK is becoming there are few places in Europe people who look like me are accepted as unquestioningly. Its unlikely I’d ever want to leave.

Doesn’t stop one feeling trapped and resentful though.


Hidari 02.01.19 at 9:22 am

@19 ‘One is the imperial nostalgic elderly white one….’

I think you will find that there is not much imperial nostalgia in Scotland, or the Welsh speaking parts of Wales*. There probably is some kind of imperial nostalgia in the North of Ireland, but it’s certainly not universal, and we all know what ‘areas’ (to use a euphemism) we would find that nostalgia in, don’t we? And why.

Do we think it’s a coincidence that Scotland, the North of Ireland and the Welsh speaking parts of Wales all voted Remain?

Do we think it’s a coincidence that all (literally all) of the Tory ‘hard Brexiteers’ are English?

Brexit is about many things, but a large part of it is imperial nostalgia amongst the English (and, I’m afraid, only the English) for their crappy racist Empire, and a desire to spark some life into the shambling corpse of the Empire’s successor, the Commonwealth (as well as blind worship for the American Empire, the true successor to the British version: c.f. Johnson and Farage fawning over Trump).

It’s all very well saying the cities are more ‘cosmopolitan’ without going into details but the fact is that these cities are now filled with immigrants and the children of immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, the West Indies and other ex-UK colonies. Countries which have a rather different view from the London based one about the alleged glories of Empire.

And as long as the truth about this Empire is kept from the English: as long as they are consistently lied to (lying by omission is still a lie) in their schools (with the state mandated curriculum) and their worthless media, this Empire nostalgia will continue with devastating consequences for the world (note the fuss recently when a Green MP entirely correctly described Churchill as a racist mass murderer, a viewpoint that is literally impossible to coherently argue against).

*Although the Welsh Assembly rejected May’s plan and voted to remain in the customs union.


Chris Bertram 02.01.19 at 9:54 am

@Hidari “Do we think it’s a coincidence that all (literally all) of the Tory ‘hard Brexiteers’ are English?”

Such as Liam Fox and Michael Gove you mean? (There’s literally a whole coterie of people at the interface between journalism and politics – Andrew Neil, Fraser Nelson who are Scottish and in academia there’s Niall Ferguson of course).


Hidari 02.01.19 at 10:34 am

Fair point, although Liam Fox is in favour of May’s plan. I was really talking about those who openly or covertly salivate at the prospect of ‘No Deal’. Obviously Gove is made of sterner stuff, so to speak, but he also said: ‘”there have also been more benign empires, and in that I would include, almost pre-eminently, the British’.

It would be interesting for a social scientist to carry out a study on the Tory party, looking at the relationship between ‘hostility to the EU’ on the one hand and propensity to agree with the statement that ‘The British Empire had generally a positive impact on the world in the 19th and 20th centuries’ on the other, but let’s face it, we can make a fair stab at the results of this study can’t we?


John Quiggin 02.01.19 at 11:25 am

It’s grimly fascinating to wonder when the “No Dealers” will wake up to the fact that “No Deal” means “lots of special deals” negotiated from the weakest possible bargaining position. Maybe three weeks after 29 March when (as I understand it), the EU will present the bill for the first instalment of the 39 billion pounds Britain has promised to pay. Given the need for other emergency deals to keep planes flying, trucks moving etc, refusal doesn’t look like an option. To turn May’s dictum around, No Deal will be the worst of bad deals.


Hidari 02.01.19 at 12:01 pm

In related news, the EU rules (entirely correctly) that Gibraltar is a colony of the British Empire. ( Gibraltar, along with the North of Ireland and the notorious backstop, is of course a major reason why May’s deal didn’t get through. From the OP: ‘ And the heretofore hard-right Tory talking point of ‘why don’t you just “re-join” the UK and make our border problem disappear for us please’ is now, apparently, a reasonable question for a flagship news programme to put to the minister of a sovereign state.’ In other words, the ‘solution’ by the Tories for Ireland is to rejoin a nascent British Empire (as parroted by the state broadcaster: wasnt it refreshing when BBC radio news used to be literally prefaced by a martial tune entitled Imperial Echoes?)

@23 If you look at the ‘hardcore Brexiteers’ of the European Research Group (especially the so to speak publicly available version of its membership, the authors of the Letter to the PM of 16th Feb 2018) I think you’ll find that most (or possibly all) of these people are English. Even the ones who were born in Scotland or elsewhere tended to be educated at Oxbridge. In any case, I am willing to bet that almost all of them have a, shall we say, Empire friendly view of British history. (

Yes and what will the UK do then? They will have no choice but to go crawling back to the EU and ask for….something. The EU will take a hit in the case of No Deal but their economies won’t disintegrate in the same way the UK’s will. So No Deal is really Remain in disguise (or at least a new relationship with the EU that will be vastly to EU’s advantage). Which is one of the many reasons No Deal is extremely unlikely to happen.


bert 02.01.19 at 12:07 pm

Excellent Maria. Thank you.


William Timberman 02.01.19 at 2:22 pm

I can remember hoping, a couple of years before the World Trade Center towers came down, that the United States would be able to give up its pretensions to empire with as much grace as Britain had done. Which goes to show, I suppose, that ignorance, while not exactly blissful, can at least be comforting.

How different things look now that everything seemingly buried in 1945 has been so well and truly disinterred. I wonder about the all-American porker with his red MAGA hat, the bull-necked German with his I’m brown because Germany has gotten so colorful tee shirt, and all the other aspirant fascists around the world. They don’t seem to represent any kind of viable future, and it’s at least possible, I think, that once the return of the repressed has again had its fill of blood and chaos, we’ll find ourselves one step closer to the kind of world culture that all of us rootless cosmopolitans dream of.

I’m in my mid-seventies, so I’ll never find out, but there’s at least one consolation. No matter what happens, I’ll be able to leave. I’ve given hostages to fortune in the form of grandchildren, it’s true, but that’s as much a matter of hope as despair. For the many generations of us who’ll never see the Promised Land, Paul Celan said it as well as it can be said: “wir schaufeln ein Grab / in den Lüften / da liegt man nicht eng.“


Cian 02.01.19 at 2:37 pm

Not everyone who voted leave did so because they were racist. And a fair number of people who voted remain were racist (I seem to know at least a few of them). Yes racism was one reason people voted leave and yes Brexit empowered racists, but I don’t think the ‘remain’ campaign has done itself any favours by pretending that’s the only reason. Or that all leave voters are irredemably evil.

Also, much of the appaling institutional racism comes down to a single person: Theresa May. I think at this point maybe we should just accept that Theresa May is vicious, cruel and a racist. I have no idea why – honestly the woman is a complete enigma to me – but clearly cruelty to immigrants and ‘wogs’ is something she feels very strongly about. The whole Windrush thing was politically unnecessary, but it still happened. She changed British immigration law in such a way that British professionals married to Americans couldn’t migrate to the UK easily. What’s up with that woman? And more importantly why does this evil mediocrity get such a free pass from the media?

My guess is the Irish question is going to get very weird over the next few years (though when hasn’t it been weird). Presumably it’s been made clear to the Northern Irish something which should have been clear to them years ago – the mainland for the most part really couldn’t give a damn about their problems. It will be interesting to see if that realization, combined with the affects of a hard border, would push them to ask for reunification. And if it happens it will be also interesting to see if Eire responds – ambivalently would be my guess. Also John Humphries? WTF was up with that interview?

I’m not sure I’d entirely agree that the UK was vicious towards Irish people 30 years – yes I experienced mild racism growing up but nothing compared to what Indians/Bangladeshi/Afro-Carribean friends experienced. And I’m not sure that the treatment of the Guildford 4 (say) was any different from the treatment of any white working class person unfortunate enough to get caught up in a police investigation of the time.


Hidari 02.01.19 at 3:35 pm

‘My guess is the Irish question is going to get very weird over the next few years (though when hasn’t it been weird).’

A poll (it was online so caveat lector) showed that a majority of people in the North or Ireland would want a united Ireland if Brexit went ahead. (

There are many many many people in Ireland who would not, to put it mildly, be very happy with the idea of a hard border between the two Irelands. You think it was a coincidence that that dissident Republican bomb attack happened in the run up to the crucial Commons votes?

53% of Scots would rather stay in the EU and be independent than be forced to leave the EU. (

While support for Welsh independence is much lower, it still leaps up in the event of Brexit (


MisterMr 02.01.19 at 4:16 pm

@Hidari 26

“So No Deal is really Remain in disguise (or at least a new relationship with the EU that will be vastly to EU’s advantage). Which is one of the many reasons No Deal is extremely unlikely to happen.”

But this is true of Brexit in general, which is what makes Brexit so appalling:
I mean I can understand people who vote in ways that I see as “bad” for their own self interest, what is surprising is that people voted for something “bad” and also against their own self interest.

So if Britons and the UK made a stupid and evidently self damaging choice 2 years ago, why wouldn’t them make another stupid choice 2 months from now?

It seems to me that Brexit comes as a result of deep contrasts of interst inside the UK and between Britons, and as thase contrasts are difficult to solve the EU was cast as a scapegoat, hence Brexit.
But this makes no deal very likely, as scapegoating in itself isn’t a rational thing.


Chris Bertram 02.01.19 at 4:53 pm

@Hidari, I think this thesis that the Welsh take a different view on Brexit to the English is rather vulnerable to the facts. In 2016 53.5% of voters in England voted to Leave, whereas 52.5% in Wales did.


Hidari 02.01.19 at 6:54 pm

I am aware of that which is why I was careful to state that it was the Welsh speaking areas in Wales which voted Remain.


Sebastian H 02.01.19 at 7:41 pm

MisterMr part of the problem is that the elite have set up a crisis of confidence in their own pronouncements. The EU has long been touted as good for the UK, but it ended up leaving a very large percentage of people who didn’t get to share in that. So that left a bunch of people to conclude that the promises were either lies to screw them over, or at best misguided confusion about how “expert opinion” played out. Either way it was a reason to mistrust the “experts” who were either wrong or lying to them for decades.

With that in mind, it becomes easier to see how a majority of people can vote against their interests. They have decided that the experts are untrustworthy, so when they say it is “against their interests”, they aren’t to be trusted

Now the reality is that like many people who lose faith in experts, they have fallen in with frauds. Hopefully they will realize that soon. But the reason they don’t trust the experts isn’t surprising—the experts weren’t paying attention to the fact that they weren’t doing well and the experts kept saying “oh no, you’re actually doing well”.

From a political perspective it is also important to remember that politics is always about priorities. For both of the major parties figuring out how to do more globalism (for the Tories) or deeper EUism for Labour, always took precedence over figuring out how to mitigate the downside of both those things. Eventually people wised up to that fact.

The problem is that the ONLY chance they were ever given to vote on that mess was Brexit. If there had been a viable party saying “the EU is probably ok in the long run, but we won’t go for ever deeper union until we figure out how to share the wealth better”. The closest there was to that was Labour saying that they can do both, but always prioritizing the EU concerns.


J-D 02.01.19 at 9:11 pm


@23 If you look at the ‘hardcore Brexiteers’ of the European Research Group (especially the so to speak publicly available version of its membership, the authors of the Letter to the PM of 16th Feb 2018) I think you’ll find that most (or possibly all) of these people are English. Even the ones who were born in Scotland or elsewhere tended to be educated at Oxbridge. In any case, I am willing to bet that almost all of them have a, shall we say, Empire friendly view of British history. (

It’s almost as if you’re trying to tell us that Leo Docherty, Iain Duncan Smith, and Craig Mackinlay are No True Scotsmen.


nick s 02.01.19 at 9:36 pm

A righteous gut-punch, Maria.

For a generation, young people in NI have grown up with the explicit acknowledgement that they can identify as British, Irish, both, or plainly as ‘Northern Irish.’ All of that changes when an Irish passport (or, as the DUP calls it, “an EU travel document”) has greater value than a British one. For British citizens living elsewhere, especially those on non-permanent visas with non-British spouses, it raises the question of whether one can ever go back. It is a theft of the future primarily by those who who aren’t going to be around in 20 years: the ‘Airfix generation’ who think they ‘survived the war’ because they remember the end of sugar rationing as children. And of course, for EU citizens in the UK, it is worse than all that.


Therese 02.01.19 at 9:46 pm

Bravo. One of the best pieces I’ve seen about this utter shitshow.


Orange Watch 02.01.19 at 10:47 pm

That hurt to read, and rightly so. Thanks for writing it.


Chris Bertram 02.01.19 at 11:06 pm

@J-D Actually, his thesis seems to be “No true Welshmen”.


RobinM 02.02.19 at 12:37 am

Re Nick S @ 36
Since I turn 80 next week, I have a small claim to having survived the War. Besides, doesn’t the oldest he/she that is in Britain have a right to live as much as the youngest he/she. Ageism in defence of liberty is no virtue.


SusanC 02.02.19 at 9:15 am

@39. The claim in the linked article is that the level of leave support in an area correlated with the proportion of Welsh speakers.

You can necessarily infer the correlation at an individual level from statistics for areas, but the implication is that Welsh speakers (as contrasted with people who happen to live in Wales) are more leave-supporting bunch.


MisterMr 02.02.19 at 9:45 am

@Sebastian H 34

What you say is true, but IMHO is just a part of the story. The point is that to mitigate the effects of globalization on one group you have to take from the other, for example through increased or more progressive taxation, and this by its nature is conflictual.
On the other hand if you blame it all on some external scapegoat, such as the EU or foreigners, you can propose a non conflictual, have your cake and eat it solution, even though that solution is illusory.

I will add that IMHO the effects of globalization are actually the effects of deregulation of the labor market and similar policies in internal policies, globalization by itself didn’t create these problems but justified the internal policies.


Jim Buck 02.02.19 at 9:54 am

The Airfix-ated, boast war, blackshirt generation got its first real rush in 1966–with England’s dodgy win in the World Cup. At that time, it seemed the Germans were too remorseful to display much outrage. Not so inhibited, the Make England Great Again crowd were ecstatic—one world cup and Alf Garnett on tv! Airfix sales, no doubt, soared. (I don’t really know that). What did sell exceedingly well was a full LP of the England supporters’ Kop chant. That chant was also preserved for posterity in ‪The Italian Job‬, when gang-impresario Bridger–played by Noel Coward– strides triumphantly through the prison wing to the chanted acclaim of adoring lumpen lags.
Working-class support for the National Front was successfully coopted by Thatcher. And when she delivered a lovely Falklands War, with heroics and sacrificed youth, their hearts were won for the next twenty years or so. Blair made regular deliveries too, but his wars produced little in the way of orgasm–only a bit of foreplay around the ports at which the ships carrying military coffins docked. The boast-warriors resemble those Saxons who disdained a straw death. They fantasise about taking out a kitchen full of Germans before being hit cleanly through the chest by a bullet from a Luger.
Many are to young to remember Suez, and they would not wish to know about that anyway. What they are about to get to know, before the gym reaper takes them, is EUez.


Hidari 02.02.19 at 11:37 am

@41 you may be right at the individual level (who knows?) but the inference you drew is not what the article linked stated. It states: ‘there appeared to be a strong Remain vote in areas with a high proportion of Welsh speakers.’ This may be right or wrong or whatever I don’t know, but that”s what it says.

On a related theme:

‘AS the Doomsday Clock this week edged another stroke towards midnight, time is moving swiftly backwards in England, seeking a point in the 19th century. The prospect of a No Deal retreat from the EU has reduced the Leave offering to exhortations of empire. Unable cogently to respond to projections of economic apocalypse persistent Brexiters are reduced to cries of: “This Is England” and “We’ve always been great when we’ve stood alone”. Even the pretence that Scotland is part of the grand delusion has been dropped. England has become a tabloid tantrum ever-vigilant for signs of treachery and they have elected the usual witch-finders and torch-bearers….

in… this period )the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries) Britain also fought hundreds of smaller wars and military skirmishes which were something less that ‘great’ and had inglorious outcomes. These too were all about maintaining power: the power and influence of the British Empire. Many of them involved the savage suppression of indigenous peoples. The distorted chronicles of British history glibly describe some of the atrocities. These, though, are often sanctified as necessarily brutal to serve the higher purpose of extending British influence and bequeathing the gifts of civilisation and Christianity upon natives who would come to be grateful for them….

and when even ravenous England had had its fill of a nation’s bounty their retreat from these stolen territories was often marked by the callous indifference to human suffering that had characterised its occupation of them. Britain’s betrayal of the Arabs after the 1916 Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in turn led to the Iraq Uprising of 1920 and bombing raids against civilians by the RAF. Instability in that region has continued to this day. The same cold-blooded indifference was evident in Ireland after 1916 and the gerrymandered construction of the artificial province of Northern Ireland. That led to 75 years of sectarian strife before a peace of sorts was achieved and now threatened once more by Brexit’s new Little Englanders….

In more recent times the brutality of the police in suppressing the Miners’ Strike in 1984 and 1985 has yet to be investigated. No other country in the developed world, be they democracy or tyranny, has managed to suppress rebellion so brutally efficiently and so successfully for so long than Britain. When you have ancient privileges and riches to protect you’ll go to extreme lengths to do so….

reen MSP Ross Greer gloriously trolled the UK media glove-puppets to whom the fictions of Empire have been entrusted. Mr Greer, deploying rather vivid imagery dismissed Sir Winston Churchill, the great champion of the British Empire, as an unreconstructed racist who had the blood of millions on his hands. There is little doubt that Churchill was a disreputable old scoundrel whose few moments of greatness coincided with Britain’s greatest need. This shouldn’t blind us to his flaws and if we are condemning ideas of racial superiority we need to acknowledge that the British Empire was entirely constructed around such attitudes and endured because of them. To focus purely on its greatest defender carries the risk of shifting attention from its fundamental and historic wickedness…

This week we learned that thousands of British soldiers are gathering to maintain order in the face of a disorderly EU exit. ‘

How ironic if the British imperial fantasy ends as it began and continued throughout, with the British army shooting innocent civilians (in the North of Ireland they rarely stopped doing this), and how ironic if these are British civilians. Rees-Mogg and the rest will be delighted as this is what they always wanted, but I wonder how the rest will feel.


Harry 02.02.19 at 1:52 pm

JB @43: On Alf Garnett. Johnny Speight was a working class socialist; Alf Garnett was a parody of people he knew. Warren Mitchell was Jewish, and a leftwinger. His son-in-law was played by a Trotskyist (albeit one who became Tony Blair’s father in law by some bizarre mischance). Til Death Us Do Part is one of the greatest satires, and its greatness turns on Mitchell’s stunning performance.

But it is also a sitcom, and a brilliant one. Part of Mitchell’s genius (and Speight’s) was the humanization of a monster. That’s what great actors and writers can do together. So, like every great British sitcom the central character, though deeply flawed (many of the greatest British sitcoms have typically been organized around a sort of monster, normally male — though think of Hyacinth Bucket, or Patsy and Eddie, or Mrs Slocomb) is someone you can somehow relate to and sympathize with (Hancock, Mainwaring, Pa Steptoe, Rigsby, Fawlty, Trotter, Brent…).[1]. And like much of the best satire (and some of the worst — I’m sorry, but I’ve found the SNL stuff on Palin and Trump sophomoric), its victims can identify it as being on their side. Which is one of the dangers of satire and why Peter Cook was exactly right about it. And why, probably, we’d be better off without it.

Sorry, not sure why I felt I had to defend Spieght and Mitchell.


steven t johnson 02.02.19 at 2:34 pm


SusanC 02.02.19 at 2:37 pm

Ps. I was alluding to what’s known as the ecological fallacy: if leave-voting areas are also Welsh speaking, it does not necessarily follow that the leave voters and tbe Welsh speakers are the same people.


Jim Buck 02.02.19 at 2:40 pm

Everyone is entitled to a defence. Everyone watched and enjoyed, half the viewers were deploring Alf— while the other half were adoring the little Britler. Not much changed then.


Farah Mendlesohn 02.02.19 at 6:20 pm

When you say Brits aren’t afraid, of losing their visas/being deported etc etc etc you are making one hell of a big assumption about who Brits are. I’m Jewish. My siblings are Jewish/Jamaican. I have Asian British friends Carribbean British friends. Just how long do you think it will take before we are next in line? Yes, I am afraid.


JanieM 02.02.19 at 9:20 pm

Maria, beautifully written as always, and utterly heartbreaking.

Totally absorbed in the surreal state of my own country, I hadn’t known this was happening: And the heretofore hard-right Tory talking point of ‘why don’t you just “re-join” the UK and make our border problem disappear for us please’ is now, apparently, a reasonable question for a flagship news programme to put to the minister of a sovereign state. It isn’t polite, or perhaps even possible, to express how angry this makes me, as an Irish person who lives in the UK.

Ironic that when I think of where I’d go if things got too bad to cope with over here, Ireland is at or near the top of my list. Ironic also that there was a time when I might have married an Irish woman, if only marriage had been possible in those days, and yet that would have been a disaster of another sort, so it’s probably just as well it turned out the way it did.

Anger not possible to put into words is a familiar feeling these days. I’m trying to stay engaged and centered, but the temptation to go hide in the woods is pretty strong.


Mercurius Londiniensis 02.02.19 at 9:54 pm

It is, indeed, a dismal business, but there is perhaps one straw to clutch at.

I teach at the university which has, for better or worse (more recently, for worse), provided the lion’s share of Britain’s cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries. Something that has struck me forcibly since the referendum is how determined the current generation of students is to rejoin the EU when possible. It is hard to find a politically aware student who says otherwise. In the UK, the views of the elite tend eventually to prevail. (The 2016 referendum was an exception, but tomorrow’s elite has already learned some lessons from that.)

This is little comfort to those whose lives are being disrupted now, and the younger generation will have to keep its head down while the tabloids excoriate the EU for the problems that will ensue post Brexit. But, so far, the EU has, commendably, been playing a long game. Once the Airfix generation has gone the way of all flesh, and once its delusions have been exposed for what they are, there are grounds to hope that the UK will become what it has yet to be: a whole-hearted participant in the European project.


J-D 02.03.19 at 6:49 am

Following up on my earlier comment:
On the one hand, it’s historical fact that Welsh people, Scottish people, and Irish people were victims of English imperialism; on the other hand, it’s historical fact that Welsh people, Scottish people, and Irish people were enthusiastic participants in British/UK imperialism.
It’s practically certain now that there’s a relationship between enthusiasm/nostalgia for the British/UK imperial past and negative feelings towards the EU (or at least towards UK-EU ties); but there’s no reason to suppose that Welsh people, Scottish people, and Northern Irish people are immune to either of those things.

None of which touches on the main point here, but I’ve got nothing of value to contribute to that discussion except that I’m grateful to Maria and commenters for sharing their feelings


bad Jim 02.03.19 at 10:29 am

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits — and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

This seems to be the season for this sort of thinking. It’s not a particularly practical approach; when confronted with a refractory piece of equipment I’m inclined to try rebooting it. If I decide to replace it I’ll buy something reputable with a warranty.

There are all sorts of problems with the state of the world. Ranking threats, I’d sort climate change towards the top, or, as an American, inequality, but those who most ardently insist on radical change in the US or the UK are motivated by animosity towards … immigrants.

Sure, I can understand the simmering resentment of the Anglo-Saxons against the Norman invaders, and the resentment of the Celts against the Anglo-Saxon invaders, and imagine the resentment of the Celtic invasion by those who came before; what were they speaking, Basque?

At some point we have to wake up and smell the coffee, which originated in Africa, as did we all.


Jim Buck 02.03.19 at 11:59 am

When arguing with Northern Irish enthusiasts, I have taken to playing the England First card: ‘ We send more to Northern Ireland each year than we do to the EU—11 billion quid, in fact! We could give that to our NHS instead! England is coming out of the EU, next we need to get out of the UK! If the Northern Irish wish to stay–let them pay! England First!

Shock, denial, and dismay ensue–then they rapidly change the subject. Maybe this is the way for the left to go? If the logic of lexit is national independence from a centralising entity, why not push that further?


Harry 02.03.19 at 1:32 pm

Chiming in — this is really a wonderful, sad, piece of writing Maria. I’m another who can’t wait to read any book you produce!


Maria 02.03.19 at 1:53 pm

Ah, JanieM, the road not taken…

Thanks, Harry! More of that anon.


Lurker 02.03.19 at 1:57 pm

@Sebastian H

The EU has long been touted as good for the UK, but it ended up leaving a very large percentage of people who didn’t get to share in that. So that left a bunch of people to conclude that the promises were either lies to screw them over, or at best misguided confusion about how “expert opinion” played out.

In fact, this narrative plays to the hands of the brexiteers. It is very difficult to say how much the declining parts of lower middle and working class have been not been sharing in the wealth created by the Union, but I would wager they’ve actually reaped greater benedits than they’ve understood.

The Union has been very efficient in its regional programs that have targeted the declining industrial regions. Typically, EU has supported projects that the central government would not have financed. Similarly, the European common standards for worktime, holidays etc. have improved the conditions of the British workers, as far as British government has not been able to carve an opt-out. And naturally, the British government has been one of the staunchest oppontents for any kind of common regulation setting the floor for work conditions.

Third, social policy is the prerogative of member states. So, if the British people have not been reaping the benefits of the Union membership, that is the responsibility of the national government, not of the Union. It is simply that the British elites have used, for decades, EU as a convenient scapecoat for all the problems that have been, very much, of their own devising.


Hidari 02.03.19 at 2:02 pm

@53 Interesting idea. It’s interesting the way that Brexit is shaking everything up. As I’ve said, it’s highly unlikely, but possible, that this whole mess might end up in producing a united Ireland, an independent Scotland, and the ‘loss’ of Gibraltar to Spain. Perhaps even Wales might get a fairer treatment if the remaining England is forced to adopt a more federal structure.

Presumably the suddenly very lonely new state of England will be forced to go back and beg to rejoin the EU with its tails between its legs.


novakant 02.03.19 at 2:16 pm

While I have no illusions about any MPs actually having read the Withdrawal Agreement (well, maybe a handful) it does come as somewhat of a surprise, (I believe in the good in people…) that former Brexit Minister Dominic Raab hadn’t even bothered to read the Good Friday Agreement:

All 35 pages of it…

If ministers and MPs can’t even be bothered to do their homework or simply lack the aptitude to understand problems of some complexity (e.g. Raab again, who “hadn’t quite understood the full extent” to which the UK relies on Dover / Calais; more here: then I think we can safely assume that the vast majority of Leave voters understand even less of the subject matter and thus cannot be taken seriously at all.

It’s like Homer Simpson running the nuclear plant.


Wats 02.03.19 at 2:40 pm

As someone from Northen Ireland/the North of Ireland, I would say that JD is certainly right that some people from Northern Ireland view the Britain’s imperial past more fondly than others, although not a majority, and possibly not even a majority of unionists either. One of the many features of Brexit that cause me to grind my teeth is having to watch the DUP present themselves as the voice of Northern Ireland despite having failed to persuade a majority of voters here to get on board with Brexit (to say nothing of their long standing resistance to British law on abortion rights and equal marriage being extended to NI, or having to put up being lectured by Arlene Foster, of all people, about the narrowness of nationalism, in contrast to unionism…).

In the run up to the vote I put it to a leading Leave campaigner here that their determination not be honest with the voters about the trade-offs involved was wildly irresponsible. He replied that they were being inundated with offers of support from the South and that Ireland would ultimately leave the EU and throw its lot in with the UK. At the time I assumed he was merely trying to get a rise out of me, but now I’m not so sure. Imperial nostalgia does indeed seem to drive so much of the wishful thinking that has characterised the romance of Brexit.

Like many middle of the road nationalist (Irish nationalist, not philosophical nationalist) types, I was happy to see any question of the unity being put on the long finger while we tried to make this place work more effectively for the people who live here. The Brexit debacle has led me to think again – the reality of our situation is that everything has been thrown up in the air by a group of people for whom we are at best an afterthought (Karen Bradley is a relatively benign example of this) and at worst an expensive, uppity, irritation. Like Maria then, I want to leave, although in my case I am already at home. Even if Brexit is somehow averted (which I think is highly unlikely) I think that a growing number of people here will think that leaving the UK sooner rather than later would be for the best. At least this option is now on the horizon for us (some of us), as it may also be for Scotland, but I can only imagine how all of this must feel for those millions of English voters who didn’t fall for any of this nonsense and who have been almost entirely written out of the Brexit drama by both main parties in Westminster. How must it feel to have to endure people like John Trickett talking about the need to deliver Brexit so that ‘millions of ordinary people’ don’t lose faith in democracy, when million of ordinary people are already losing faith, if not in democracy, certainly in the willingness of their political representatives to act in the interests of their country. Like Maria, I am both angry and sad at how all of this is turning out, for everyone involved.


Dipper 02.03.19 at 4:53 pm

“of ‘why don’t you just “re-join” the UK … It isn’t polite, or perhaps even possible, to express how angry this makes me, as an Irish person who lives in the UK.”

This question is a classic piece of English understatement. The blunt way of putting it is that if you put British sovereignty on the table we will put your sovereignty on the table. I cannot begin to tell you the number of people who are livid at Varadkar’s threatening us with a resumption of a mainland bombing campaign and political assassinations unless we agree to his demands as part of the EU to rule the UK.

@ novakant – fantastic. A Remainer who has finally got round to reading the GFA. So which clause says the UK must remain in a customs union or the single market?

@ Mercurius Londiniensis. The fact that you appear to be recruiting students from solely Remain areas is not something to be proud of. Lots of young people voted Leave, but obviously cannot get past your cultural screening.


otpup 02.03.19 at 5:06 pm

Harry @45, Wondering if you caught Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast on satire (and its lack of political effect). All In the Family comes up as well as some Brit examples.


Cian 02.03.19 at 6:32 pm

@62 – my general rule of thumb is that Malcolm Gladwell says a thing is true then it probably isn’t. Which is awkward as I actually agree with Harry about it’s efficacy.


Cian 02.03.19 at 6:41 pm

I might be misremembering, but as I recall part of the GFA is that Northern Ireland has the right to a referrendum on rejoing the Republic. Demographic changes in Northern Ireland and the gradual of the Unionist project among protestants means that if such a vote were to happen today it would be pretty close. Obviously if you a hard border and the chaos that would result from a hard Brexit could quite easily result in a reunified Ireland.


Hidari 02.03.19 at 7:58 pm

‘ I cannot begin to tell you the number of people who are livid at Varadkar’s threatening us with a resumption of a mainland bombing campaign and political assassinations unless we agree to his demands as part of the EU to rule the UK.’

Obviously a certain presumption of honestly is essential in these discussions but could you point me in the direction of the quote where the democratically elected Taoiseach of Ireland threatened a bombing campaign and political assassinations on UK soil unless ‘we agree to his demands’? I mean obviously I have no doubt there is one, but a source would be nice.


Dipper 02.03.19 at 9:21 pm

@ Hidari – yes of course.

Here’s an article summarising Varadkar’s position as “There have been fears that checkpoints could return to the Irish border in the event of a hard Brexit and that this could again lead to violence.” This has gone down like a lead balloon. The garda commissioner is at it too

Obviously no one is going to openly state that unless the UK agrees to Irish demands there will be bombings in the UK, but the narrative is clear – unless the UK agrees the EU proposal then they will be forced to erect a hard border which will reignite the terrorism campaign. The last time this happened, whilst the majority of terrorism was in NI, there was a significant amount in the UK including the murder of several politicians.


JanieM 02.03.19 at 9:33 pm

I suppose it’s also the weatherman’s fault that it’s raining, since he’s the one who pointed out that it probably would.

Some things never change.


Dipper 02.03.19 at 10:12 pm

@ Cian – 64 “I might be misremembering, but as I recall part of the GFA is that Northern Ireland has the right to a referrendum on rejoing the Republic.”

The GFA isn’t that specific but clause ii of the Constitution section says The Participants … recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone … to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;

What it also says in section i is ” recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;” which I think could be interpreted as saying that NI cannot be removed from the EU without a majority of people of NI voting for it. I’m not sure why those against Brexit aren’t arguing this point.


Dipper 02.03.19 at 10:15 pm

@ JanieM – the rain is unaware of the weatherman’s predictions, so this is not the same. Paramilitaries are well aware of what politicians are saying.

This is more along the lines of “nice little democracy you have there. Shame if it were to have an accident”


Duncan Roman Bell 02.03.19 at 10:42 pm

As you might guess from my first 2 names, I am British, and of Polish extraction (my Mother was Polish). She went through all the same racist shit in the 1950s, after coming to England as a refugee in 1947, speaking no English because she had been brought up in a forced labour camp. (She and my Grandmother both survived that experience). She became a secondary-school teacher, to A-level, specialist subject English.
I am sick of the now really blatant racism that is a frequent reality in England: a friend of ours (Dutch, in her 50s) was attacked in the street in our town (Lancaster) for speaking Dutch on her mobile phone. In “Lancaster for Europe”, I and others have spent all the time since the referendung talking to people about the impact of Brexit, and being told I was a traitor and once, memorably, a member of the Hitler Youth! (I was 55 at the time). I am moving to Frankfurt, Germany, on the 19th of March, with my wife. We both speak German, and we will register as residents and apply for long-term residency while we still can, before the 29th of March. We will pay taxes to the german government (as registered freelance translators) instead of the UK. And if that doesn’t work out. we will go and live in Malaysia, where we have relatives and contacts. ABB – not just an engineering company – also “Anything But Britain”.
Good luck, everyone!


Philip D. Wilson 02.03.19 at 11:26 pm

This is horrifying. As an American, I’ve spent a modest amount of time lately thinking about how the military subculture of the German Empire wrecked Germany, their aristocratic Germany not being the full picture of the nation. You give me reason to wonder if the present Parliamentary culture have a form of that, albeit with fewer spiked helmets.

Am I right in surmising that Greater London had the greatest absolute number of Remain voters? So in effect Westminster is a pocket of Leave surrounded by millions of Remain?

Good to know.

At this point, it might be time invoke prophecy. I wish I could go over there, look up that Arthur Pendragon fellow (Is he still around?) & encourage him to hold public rallies for his vision—if I understand it properly—of Britain as a place that welcomes all who would love it, not a “race.” Especially since the new racists are now using his (ahem) name in vain for their “Race Soul” arguments.


faustusnotes 02.04.19 at 2:48 am

Dipper, I know you won’t because you never do, but I think you should put some thought into Duncan Roman Bell’s comment, and ask yourself what you have done to your own country. Are you proud of this?


Chetan Murthy 02.04.19 at 5:17 am

The comment Dipper@66 is trolling, pure and simple.

Let me demonstrate that: when the UK Brexits, the NI/Eire border will be the external border of the EU. If the EU does not ensure that the UK continues to follow all the rules for tradeable goods, then the EU must itself ensure that any goods crossing that border follow those rules. Otherwise, the UK can become a conduit for all manner of banned goods to enter the EU. These facts are obvious, and for Varadakar to state them, is not to make a “threat”. It’s is to state *facts*.

So again, we’re back to: (a) backstop, or (b) a physical border.

The only other alternative proposed by the Brexiters is some sort of “technical solutions”, which aren’t spelled-out, and in any case, couldn’t solve the problem of sanitary and phytosanitary checks (as they’re called).

Stop trolling, Dipper.


Orange Watch 02.04.19 at 5:19 am

This question is a classic piece of English understatement. The blunt way of putting it is that if you put British sovereignty on the table we will put your sovereignty on the table.
“Sovereignty” is not a binary value – there are degrees of sovereignty. Saying that “we have the same amount of sovereignty and I don’t like it so I want to increase my sovereignty” is not equivalent to “we have the same amount of sovereignty and I don’t like it so I want to increase my sovereignty while simultaneously making your sovereignty subordinate to my sovereignty”.

It also ignores that the UK has progressively eliminated their leverage to the point where they’re certainly not capable of making credible demands – which makes claims that other nations should volunteer to be annexed more belligerent than warning about possible outcomes of rebuilding a militarized border that was demilitarized in accordance to the mutual cooperation underpinning the GFA. That sort of statement is completely tonedeaf, and reactions to it such as yours here do nothing to dispel the idea that Brexiters long for a return to the halcyon days of Empire.


Jim Buck 02.04.19 at 7:50 am

Mr Dipper is obviously not English, so is unlikely to be as concerned as English people themselves are, about the destiny of England The people of Northern Ireland have benefited greatly from our protection. £11 billion per annum we have been spending on them. Consider that: £11 billion per annum! Meanwhile, our soldiers—many of whom were put between the warring parties in the senseless Northern Irish civil war–many of those soldiers are sleeping on our streets. Let’s bring that £11 billion home and spend it on the likes of them! And on our schools! And on our NHS! Let’s put England First!


faustusnotes 02.04.19 at 8:11 am

Late last year I wrote a blog post about the impact of social changes in Ireland on attitudes to union. I remember that 20 years ago people would often dismiss the idea of reunification because Ireland was seen as a religiously fanatical backwater. Since then Ireland has changed a lot and the UK hasn’t, to the point where I suspect it would be quite easy for the Irish to convince a majority of Northern Irish people to rejoin them. Once Brexit gets underway and the UK becomes an even more backward and moribund basket case, I suspect the final social barriers to reunification will disappear for all but the most hardcore nationalists. I suspect Brexit will speed the process by which the UK loses NI.

Before Brexit I would guess it would not have been easy for Scotland to leave the UK and immediately join the EU (I think I even remember something about this during the independence referendum). I suspect the EU will be circumspect about allowing newly-independent countries to join the EU because that will basically mean that the EU is encouraging independence movements in European nations. There is no economic downside to independence for Catalonia if they can just walk into the EU, and I would guess that there is some pressure from Spain for the EU not to allow that.

Of course, once the UK leaves the EU it is no longer able to exert any such pressure … so I wonder how quickly Scotland and NI will leave the UK, and what the Tories will be willing to do to keep them.


Niall McAuley 02.04.19 at 9:27 am

Dipper writes: I cannot begin to tell you the number of people who are livid at Varadkar’s threatening us with a resumption of a mainland bombing campaign.

I haven’t heard the term Mainland used for Great Britain in some years. Everything old is new again.


J-D 02.04.19 at 9:43 am


Unlike some of the other commenters here, I feel that your comment suggests a point that merits serious discussion. If a national leader refers publicly to the possibility of some people resorting to violence, does it increase the risk that that those people will actually resort to violence? On consideration, it seems to me that the answer to this question is that sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t, and that it’s definitely something a national leader should reflect on. There probably are situations where public discussion of the possibility of resort to violence will increase the risk of that resort to violence, and in those situations it would be ill-advised for a national leader to discuss the subject publicly unless there was an extremely strong countervailing consideration. In some situations it might be worse than just ill-advised, it might be reckless dangerous folly. However, it wouldn’t always be so, and certainly it wouldn’t be justified to lay down an absolute rule, or even a general rule, that national leaders should not refer to the possibility of violence.

Moving from the general to the particular, I don’t know enough about the situation in Ireland to know whether Leo Varadkar’s discussion of the possibility of a return to violence by Northern Ireland paramilitaries was a reasonable and justifiable thing for him to do. I’m not sure that it will increase the risk of exactly the return to violence he was expressing concern about, but it is a possibility, and if so it was a bad decison on his part: maybe an extremely bad decision. I have to qualify that, though, by saying that I expect Leo Varadkar, though still fallible, has more knowledge and understanding of the situation than I do. I would like to think he would be reasonably careful about what he says. Still, I don’t know for sure that he is. I’m sure we can all think of examples of utterances and other actions by national leaders which have been reckless, dangerous, and foolish.

Having covered all that: none of the above could ever justify the distortion of describing Leo Varadkar’s utterances as threats.


Maria 02.04.19 at 10:13 am

Dipper, yours insulting a commenter who shared a painful experience of xenophobia has been deleted. Tread carefully if you wish to continue in this discussion.


Dipper 02.04.19 at 10:33 am

Maria – no insult was intended and I apologise if any was taken.

@ Jim Buck- the GFA, agreed when it was assumed the UK was going to be in the EU for ever, implicitly rejects the notion of the UK having a strategic stake in NI and explicitly states that if a majority of people in NI so wish then NI may unite with RoI. Brexit doesn’t change that position, so if that majority arises from peoples perception of Brexit then I so no reason why that would be a problem.


Bartholomew 02.04.19 at 11:33 am

Dipper is obviously trolling. The warning given by Varadkar has also been given by the Chief Constable of the PSNI (George Hamilton), the ex-Chief Constable (Hugh Orde) and the ex-deputy Chief Constable (Drew Harris). Are they also encouraging terrorism and threatening Britain?
(Harris is also the ‘Garda commissioner’ referred to by Dipper, so that referring to him that way only is being a little economical with the truth.)
Dipper’s modus operandi is unfortunately typical of Leavers – ad hominem attacks on any informed opinion.

The non-border implications of Brexit for the GFA/BA are well laid out by Tony Connolly of RTE here:

One other way that Brexit has turned things upside down – despite the prominence of humour as a special quality in the British national character, all the humour in the negociation process has come from the European side: Tusk and his cherry cake tweet, Barnier saying ‘Backstop means backstop’, Juncker sending up May’s dancing to the podium. Gentle ribbing that got hysterically humourless responses from Britain. Yes, the roles are reversed all right.


Roger Mulberge 02.04.19 at 11:49 am

Thank you Maria for your insightful, and deeply moving, story of how Brexit has affected you. As a UK passport holder of Irish, Maltese, Alsatian and English heritage I left some years ago. Any lingering regrets that I might have harboured have been thoroughly dispelled by the unpleasant and slanderous statements offered by the denizens of the swamp known, somewhat erroneously, as the European Research Group.


Bartholomew 02.04.19 at 11:49 am

And also – possibly the most appalling political aspect of this post is the story about the anniversary celebrations of the GFA/BA. Turning down an official invitation from another state to a celebration of an international treaty with that other state, a treaty that ended a 30-year civil war within the UK itself, is incomprehensible and unforgivable. Brexit and the current UK government have really taken a pickaxe to Anglo-Irish relations.

Plenty of people in Europe are fully aware of this. Sylvie Goulard, at the time a French MEP and later a minister (short-lived) in Macron’s government, has spoken about addressing a public meeting in London before the referendum. When she raised Northern Ireland, she was told that it wasn’t really an issue – by, unbelievably, Teresa Villiers, who was at that time the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.


Collin Street 02.04.19 at 12:05 pm

implicitly rejects the notion of the UK having a strategic stake in NI

What, you thought that was the GFA substance? that’s boilerplate self-determination guff, hasn’t been seriously disputed since the 50s anywhere.

The actual substance of the GFA is the legitimation of both “irish” and “british” identities: people in NI are supposed to be entitled to “irish” or “british” lives, at their preference, reducing the sovereignty issue to a minor bureaucratic technicality. Brexit impacts this rather dramatically, for reasons you should have understood a year and a half ago.

Dipper: it’s been two years. This has been talked about for eighteen months. There’s two months to go: you need to ask yourself, “why do I not understand the problem yet”.


Dipper 02.04.19 at 12:32 pm

@ Bartholomew – I invite you to consider the prospect of Senior Police officers publicly saying that in the event of the UK not leaving the EU or not restricting immigration that there may be civil unrest in England that they would be unable to contain. I would consider that to be an inappropriate political intervention, and hence similar statements over NI I also consider inappropriate.

“a treaty that ended a 30-year civil war within the UK itself”. The inference that acts of terrorism are legitimate political acts, and the accompanying inference that if one side feels the treaty has been broken then reigniting the “civil war” would be legitimate is IMHO, not an acceptable way to conduct politics. There is clear moral hazard here in allowing the threat of terrorism to thwart democratic votes.

“When she raised Northern Ireland, she was told that it wasn’t really an issue”. In the referendum debate it was mentioned by Mark Durkan of the SDLP once and then not followed up. In retrospect his comment is quite prescient. However the widespread suspicion in Leaver circles (i.e. the majority political opinion amongst UK citizens) is that NI is being used as an excuse to deny the legitimacy of UK aspirations to leave the EU, and that EU politicians are deliberately exploiting this for their own ends.


Cian 02.04.19 at 12:59 pm

I haven’t really seen much coverage of how Brexit has affected Northern Irish perspectives of the UK. I know that there’s been a surge in applications for Irish passports – but has it made people there feel more favourably about reunification?


Cian 02.04.19 at 1:08 pm

@Dipper: “a treaty that ended a 30-year civil war within the UK itself”. The inference that acts of terrorism are legitimate political acts, and the accompanying inference that if one side feels the treaty has been broken then reigniting the “civil war” would be legitimate is IMHO, not an acceptable way to conduct politics. There is clear moral hazard here in allowing the threat of terrorism to thwart democratic votes.

a) You meant ‘implication’, not inference.
b) Can you please explain how any of his comments implied that acts of terrorism were legitimate political acts.
c) Can you please explain to me where in any of his comments he implied that reigniting the civil war would be legitimate, or (given you seem to be implying he meant this) desirable?
d) Can you please explain to me when this referendum about having a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic occurred?

You’re probably too ignorant to know this, but the Republic also suffered from terrorist acts during the troubles. So he’s probably not super excited about the possibility that the civil war could restart.


Bartholomew 02.04.19 at 1:48 pm

Dipper –

(a) ‘an inappropriate political intervention’. The logic of your position is that the Chief Constable is encouraging terrorism. Do you think he should be sacked?
And the joint statement by Major and Blair before the referendum, when they said that leaving the EU would undermine the peace process? Also irresponsible?

(b) To call something a civil war in no way implies anything about legitimacy. There are acts of terrorism in most civil wars – the Spanish, the Russian, the Finnish, even the English/British one.

(c) In that debate, Durkan said that ‘the implications of the UK leaving the EU would be pretty fundamental, not just for my constituency but for the political institutions in Northern Ireland. The common experience of EU membership provided the very context in which there were changed British and Irish relations, which in turn provided the context for the peace process… Fundamental damage and change may be done when serious questions are raised about our commitment to human rights and to our membership of the EU’.

Maybe short, but it hardy minimizes the issue. And if it was not followed up in the debate, that is a symptom of precisely the problem we are talking about.


Wats 02.04.19 at 2:01 pm

There have been several polls on NI attitudes to unity in light of the Brexit result, with one of these showing unionism and nationalism pretty much neck and neck now. This in an outlier, however, with other polls showing a much more modest level of support for unity. There’s a decent review of the results here:

Even without Brexit, one would have to take into account longer term demographic changes here, with a (nominally) Catholic majority looking likely to emerge in the coming years (one report suggests 2021: and he fact that in the last Assembly elections unionist parties lost their majority for the first time.

Obviously, none of this translates automatically into support for a united Ireland, but Brexit (and the appalling arrogance and ignorance of many Brexiters) has tilted moderates like myself thinking more seriously about a border poll. The DUP, if they were minimally rational, would see that they can’t count on the moderate Catholics/nationalists (I’m the latter myself) to be wary of change if they are determined to throw everything up in the air, and repeatedly poke us in the eye at the same time. In opting enthusiastically for Brexit chaos they have lost the status quo advantage that unionism used to be able to rely on.

Brexiters who dismiss our genuine concerns about the potential for a hard border to establish conditions for future violence (the history of NI shows how easily these things can spiral out of control, even if only a minority are committed to violence) only serve to strengthen the suspicion of people like me that there is no long term future for this relationship (at least this particular constitutional configuration of it – we will always have, and value, relations of various sorts with Britain).

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