The Irish can show the English how to handle nationalism better in post-Brexit Europe

The temptation is strong to go apocalyptic over Brexit. A slightly poorer UK with the threat of fragmentation hanging over it is not the ideal backdrop for stability on Northern Ireland.

But here’s a thought.

Why not set good example? After all, our experience of instability is unrivalled in modern western Europe. We know the score. Let’s pick our way  through Stephen Collins’ prophetic piece in the Irish Times .

There is  some irony in the fact that on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, England has severed its key connection with us. Now, whether we like it or not, we are going to be far more dependent on our “gallant allies in Europe” than ever before in our history as an independent state.

I disagree that the EU was the “key connection”.   Yes, the principle if not quite the practice, of  equality between member states  boosted Irish self  confidence and the institutions created space and an additional   framework  to allow the essential connection to become healthier. But “the key connection” has always been, always will be, the intimate personal relations, across the islands, and north south.

There are many reasons to be apprehensive about what will happen in the years ahead but no reason to panic. Ireland has done far better as a member of the European Union than ever before in its history so there is no dilemma about remaining on despite the departure of our nearest neighbours.

There’s never any point  in panicking if you can help it. The sterling/.euro exchange rate has gone up again  to levels just short of the euphoria level  it reached when the markets  (wilfully?)  misread the late  polls. But the next strategic question is, will the eurozone proceed to integration? From their  experience of  the notorious troika are the Irish entirely happy about that? The rhetoric is still playing yes, the political realities say no. This is a discussion that must be held after the shock of Brexit subsides.

“There is no dilemma about  remaining?” Probably not, Taking continuing EU  and eurozone membership for granted is the best evidence that the key relationship is bilateral. There’ also a good chance that the City of London’s adversity will become  Dublin’s opportunity if there is capital and services flight out  the UK.

The future relationship between the two parts of Ireland is another huge challenge. The most likely response of the next UK government to the exit decision will be to impose strict Border controls, but they are likely to be between the two islands rather than along the 499km frontier.

Well possibly. Nobody knows what a future UK government will do including its potential members. Digitisation should help make it easier wherever controls are placed. Need a visible border on the island be so terrible in practice?  Drivers are used to pausing to pay motorway tolls.

The constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be another live issue. Sinn Féin has been campaigning for a Border poll on the way to a united Ireland and the party will push that agenda much harder now. If there is a referendum on Scotland to leave the UK, it will fuel the demand for a referendum in the North.

“Live” issue? Embryonic maybe or a phantom pregnancy?  No such evidence of demand presently exists. Indeed, last month’s dip in support for nationalist parties in the Assembly elections produced a rethink about the inevitability of a united Ireland and complaints that Sinn Fein were lying down under DUP triumphalism. Their sudden call for a border poll after the Brexit vote suggests they were as surprised at the outcome as most of us and were improvising a response to match Nicola Sturgeon’s in Scotland. It  doesn’t seem like a quick fix. The local conditions are the ones that count .

Just now it’s makes me smile to read distinguished  Dublin writers pontificating about the dangers of nationalism.  They have learned  their own lessons of nationalism.  The smaller countries may have become less prone to self deception because their limitations for posturing are more obvious.

The British (specifically the English) are not the only ones to indulge in exceptionalism. There is for instance, the little matter of  une certaine idée de la France.  All the bigger countries fancy themselves.  Creating a bigger and bigger stage of an ever- enlarging, ever closer EU to perform on was at least as powerful a driver as the pious claims of pooling  sovereignty for the common good.

The EU can still provide corrections to too narrow a vision of national interests provided it restrains its own imperialist instincts.  Sadly the UK seems to have rejected that valuable service. Perhaps the Irish can speak up for it?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Nevin

    Brian, in light of the closeness of the Brexit poll perhaps a second referendum would produce a different result, despite the different context.

  • Msiegnaro

    YAAAAWWWWNNNN, sorry what were you saying??

  • Chingford Man

    The referendum was won because enough people realised that continuing open door immigration was going to be ruinous to them and their children. I imagine their desire for the UK to regain its sovereignty is part of the “too narrow a vision of national interests” that Walker so arrogantly identifies.

  • NotNowJohnny

    The idea of a second referendum isn’t new. Here’s what Boris Johnson (who may become the next PM) wrote back in February:

    “There is only one way to get the change we need, and that is to vote to go, because all EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says No.”

    And here’s what Nigel Farage said.

    “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

  • Msiegnaro

    Can’t keep having referendums, we’re out and others want to follow.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    … which raises the possibility of knee jerk voting.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It looks like you misread what he wrote.

  • ted hagan

    All very well to talk of the UK and sovereignty while pressing the self-destruct button at the same time.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Why can’t we keep having referendums? Is there any legal or constitutional impediment?

  • Are you talking about the real migrants that you know, or the fantasy migrants as seen in newspapers and posters?

  • Only in Northern Ireland. There has to be 7 years between one border poll and the next.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Yes, although the second referendum being referred to here is the EU one.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It will be fascinating to see how the dynamic of Ireland’s interaction with NI & the wider UK changes over the next few years. Now that one of the biggest counterweights to le coq hardi & der schwarzer adler has exited the (im)balance of power relations will EU member Ireland’s parity with the UK be enhanced or be diminished?
    Neither pooling of sovereignty nor sacrificing some nationalism to a wider family were never natural features of the English but the real power axis never favoured conditions for the UK to fully integrate in the same way that some smaller member states accepted.

    There’s also an interesting switch in Ireland’s erstwhile far too narrow nationalism, where it excluded more than it included, to it appearing more pluralist and welcoming than the UK itself does now. Ireland’s ‘reformed behaviour’ after allowing itself to become one of the PIIGS in the class no longer smells of accepting its punishment but will more likely be used by the EU as exemplary of success when playing within the rules. With the weight of the EU behind it I wonder could Ireland stand to benefit more from Brexit than the UK itself does?

  • Chingford Man

    I’m talking about net migration running at 300,000 a year.

  • Chingford Man

    The only things on self-destruct today are the angry people who lost. I would have accepted the result even if I had been on the losing side.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Or is he talking about immigrants from outside the EU? Would the French be that cooperative if another Sangatte situation emerged?

  • Chingford Man

    No, I don’t think I did.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    So instead you limited inference within your own narrow frame.

  • ted hagan

    You miss the point. The losing side looks like being the unity of the UK.

  • Chingford Man

    Sturgeon won’t be calling any referendum whilst oil is trading at $50 a barrel, way down from September 2014. If the SNP had won its referendum, Scotland would be a third world country now. It’s the EU Evil Empire that should be more worried about breaking up. I doubt the UK will be the last to leave.

  • ulidian

    The actual figure is a lot higher than that.

  • Katyusha

    I don’t know, Chingford. The Pound looks to be on self-destruct itself.

  • Chingford Man
  • Thomas Barber

    In what sense do you mean ruinous to them and their children CM ?

  • Chingford Man

    Go and look up UKIP’s last manifesto for yourself. I’m not repeating it for you when it’s been discussed endlessly over the last 2 months.

  • Katyusha

    Good job I paid off my Sterling debts then, when we were trading 81 ¢ to the pound.

    No, hold on, we still 81 ¢ to the GBP. Whoops.

    The FTSE 100 has recovered because 1) the fall in sterling already overcompensated for their losses, and 2) most of them are international companies rhat trade in other currencies. The FTSE 250 is a better index for the hit that UK business has taken.

    Might as well face it. Sterling took a nosedive last night, and certain people did quite well out of it.

  • John Collins

    Insightful. The Brits were never happy in the EU and De Gaulle foresaw this, and kept them out while he could.

  • Chingford Man

    Sterling took a nosedive only because it had been pushed up unrealistically thanks to dodgy polling on Thursday. As I said, the Pound is back to where it was in February.