Thursday, 13 February 2020

The Irish establishment has no room for complacency

The LSE Brexit unit reports that there is no anti-English sentiment in Ireland in the wake of Brexit.
There is no ‘anti-English’ sentiment in Ireland in the wake of Brexit. The success of Sinn Fein in the recent Irish general election was built on a deep-seated public dissatisfaction with the quality of social provision in health, housing, childcare and other ‘quality of life’ issues at a time of a booming economy. The party’s traditional nationalism is certainly an issue of concern, but it played simply no role in its electoral success, writes Ben Tonra (University College Dublin).
Course you wouldn't think that were you to go by certain Irish columnists, not least Fintan O'Toole, whose narrow-minded Brexit analysis has long since drifted into Anglophobia. According to him Britain is in the grip of a nationalistic fever, nostalgic for empire and generally xenophobic. There's no nuance. It's a deliberate sneer, wilfully refusing to contemplate the many reasons why Brits have a long standing mistrust of the EU and why, taking into account the manifest failings of the British governing class, we might have voted to leave.

We too could play that game. We could read all sorts into a Sinn Fein surge and cast aspersions on the character of the Irish. I won't because I largely accept the LSE's reading of it. Ireland has its own "left behind" who are also voting to send a message with varying motivations. 

But it's curious that the LSE would go to bat to shore up Ireland's reputation when it wouldn't do the same level of analysis regarding the UK. If anyone did get the impression that the UK is in the grip of a nationalist fever and pining for empire etc, it's because LSE and wider academia have invested considerable energies into retailing that narrative to anyone who'll listen, not least EU academics and US columnists.

Course, it's easy to see why it looks that way to the distant outsider. The boorish behaviour of the Tory party in recent months (which is apparently quite popular at the ballot box) suggests there is more than a germ of truth to the narrative weaved by remainers. 

But then the Tories aren't especially popular. They didn't win the election on their own merit. If anyone can take credit for the Tory landslide it's Jeremy Corbyn. We should also not forget that the Tory party didn't instigate Brexit. They were forced into it by Ukip. Ever since the Tories have been fighting off an insurgency on the right and have had to do a great deal to placate the eurosceptics just to stay in business. 

Part of the reason Brexit has been so cack-handed is that the execution fell to a Tory party that didn't want Brexit, didn't really understand what happened in 2016 and to large extent still doesn't. They're as out of touch as ever they were, thinking that throwing leavers the odd bone like a blue passport and ending freedom of movement is enough to stay in power and kill off any insurgency. 

This clueless blundering only really goes to reinforce remainer perceptions of leavers largely because remainers understand Brexit and leave voters even less than the Tory party does. Consequently the overwrought reaction of remainers then has leavers playing into it just to rub their noses in it. No leaver I know ever cared about a blue passport but if it pisses all the right people off then it's good for a laugh. 

Ultimately remainers, particularly in academic and media circles, have a vested interest in retailing to the world the notion that leave voters are best represented by Mark Francois - tubby, spotty little oiks who haven't got over winning World War Two. It suits their narcissism and feeds their sense of cosmopolitan superiority. 

This is partly why the LSE has gone to bat to shore up Ireland's reputation. Ireland has been held aloft as a beacon of progressivism, keeping the torch lit for enlightened values in the English speaking quarter of Europe. Ireland is also a useful stick with which to beat the English with. Their interest in Ireland is entirely utilitarian. The remain camp is so embittered by Brexit, there is nothing they would like to see more than a humbled and broken UK, with Scotland gaining independence and Ireland reunited, leaving a rump UK out on it s own, demoralised and humiliated. The self-loathing on the progressive left is palpable.

Course with hubris and vanity being what it is, Leo Varadkar has stepped into the limelight to soak up the adulation of British europhiles, and to exploit its unique positioning in the Brexit negotiations. I won't go as far as saying he has been punished for that, because such is a simplistic and self-serving narrative. But the Irish europhile establishment really need to wind their necks in. 

I say that because I don't trust what I'm looking at. I don't believe the Irish peope are as europhile as their politicians are. I think they are more like us than their politicians would care to admit. The trends that brought us to Brexit can be found in Ireland and those issues are exacerbated by a number of factors. 

Furthermore, Ireland is a little bit behind the curve. During the Blair regime when Britain was congratulating itself at the height of its liberal golden age, we were laughing at stodgy old Ireland for being far behind the times in social attitudes, still very much held prisoner to "old fashioned" catholic values. It provided much source material for Irish comedians who were well received in the UK.

So we are to believe one of two things. Either the liberal establishment in Dublin has imposed radical social changes on the whole country without any real debate or Ireland has had a near spontaneous change of values in just a few years that makes them a land of happy clappy rainbow progressives.

I very much doubt it's the latter. I think Ireland is still two decades behind the curve and now they're having their own self-congratulatory Blairish era while the fundamentals are eroding under them - which very well could be exacerbated by the UK leaving the single market and customs union. A UK recession is sure to have consequences for Ireland. 

For the time being the social consensus may well track that which we experienced here where if you had politically inconvenient views, you kept them to yourself. Not everyone in Ireland seems equally welcoming of recent societal and cultural developments, suggests research published by Behaviour & Attitudes, with two thirds believing Ireland is too politically correct.

Ireland too could also see attitudes sour on immigration. The decision to turn the Irish passport into a commodity, thereby cheapening the very idea of citizenship may well come at a price, all the while some researchers think "Ireland is “ripe” for a far-right party to emerge". Irish asylum claims are at a ten year high with applicants hailing from Syria, Georgia and Albania which is sure to bring gang violence, organised crime and racially motivated attacks to a country already blessed with it in abundance.

Essentially if the Irish establishment is anywhere near as tin eared as our own then they'll follow the same pattern of ignoring all the warning signs, choosing instead to belittle and censor inconvenient voices, then they can expect much the same outcomes witnessed here in the UK and elsewhere. Though we are told that support for EU membership is at an all time high in Ireland, these times are fickle. It wasn't so very long ago that Brexit favouring parties in the UK collectively couldn't scratch 6% between them. Irexit is not as far fetched as it may seem.

Ultimately I know very little about the dynamics of Irish politics but humans have certain universal traits. We are welcoming in times of abundance but not so in times of scarcity. We form communities and establish common conventions and interlopers who ignore them or hold them in contempt are met with intolerance and eventually violence. Ireland is no different and there is enough circumstantial evidence to paint a familiar narrative. The Irish establishment has no room for complacency.

In recent months we have seen Varadkar playing the role of international statesman, soaking up the limelight as Barnier's right hand man. His successor will likely fail to resist the temptation of doing likewise. This is not a good idea. As much as every man and his dog have been telling us about the gravity effect in trade, where the UK still does most of its trade with the EU, that basic universal rule of trade also applies to Ireland who still depend to a very large extent on trade with the UK. We are sure to bear that in mind it the future. This pettiness and arrogance will be remembered. 

If there is one constant in EU history it is that hubris is rewarded by karma. Brexit is one such instance. There is plenty of hubris on all sides and this current crop of Tories have set themselves up for a much deserved humbling, but though Ireland may gloat, they should recall that what goes around comes around. 

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