So, there’s been some bizarre stuff that’s happened since the UK narrowly, but decisively voted for Brexit. This morning I argued on the SluggerReport that the very unexpected nature of the result may have coloured an odd and confused response to the will of the people.
For my money, the best and most sympathetic analysis I’ve seen of what followed was Rafael Behr’s long-form piece in the Guardian today which comes up with this little gem for understanding what went wrong with the Remain campaign.
…over the course of the campaign, the most senior remainers found collegiate sympathy in a shared world view. As one put it: “We were the pluralist, liberal, centrist force in British politics.” Pro-Europeanism became a proxy for the fusion of economic and social liberalism that had been a dominant philosophy of the political mainstream for a generation, although its proponents were scattered across partisan boundaries. These centrists were the ruling class of an unrecognised state – call it Remainia – whose people were divided between the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems; like a tribe whose homeland has been partitioned by some insouciant Victorian cartographer.
Probably the most eloquent evocation of what ‘Remainia’ looks like from the inside is this typically elegant (but untypically angry) piece from one of my own personal heroes, Roy Foster…
At a meeting of 80 academic historians from all parts of the political spectrum at 11 Downing Street a few weeks ago, the sense of intellectual solidarity in favour of European membership was powerful and I was foolish enough to believe that these feelings would prevail. I cannot rid myself of the feeling that we have been living in a bubble.
In Ireland, north and south, it’s as though the grief and shock of the result caused political nationalism to lose the run of itself. The narrow win for Remain prompted Sinn Fein get out the old border poll card (with which reality soon caught up when they found no one was listening).
So it was that what began as a modest proposal to feed in ideas from pro Remainers (across the NI community) into the EU became a re-run of the divisive New Ireland Forum. It lasted no more than 48 hours before Arlene Foster told the Taoiseach, thanks, but no thanks.
So who is Arlene Foster to tell those of us who voted remain to wise up? Well, first of all, she’s the First Minister of a powersharing Northern Ireland. Secondly, she had a good campaign, polling 15% above the figure her party got six weeks earlier.
That, of course, is not to gainsay Northern Ireland’s 56% figure for Remain. But the suggestion that it is some sort of licence to trigger a run for the exit, via something some have begun to call a Reverse Greenland will, in the long run, only undermine the interests of those who promote it.
It’s a great idea all but for one thing: it won’t work. There are three substantial political road-blocks. One, Arlene is against it, and not only is she a winner but she’s likely to become more (not less) popular by making the refusal.
Two, no UK government will wear it for the foreseeable future, especially not one now beholden to the DUP for holding the Brexit banner so high and loud in the campaign (not to mention finding the readies to pay for that four page Metro ad in London).
And three, even if NI could get past those first two, Spain will kill it dead at the Council of the European Union where it has the right to veto new members under a mechanism that could almost have been designed to destabilise its back yard. The UK will not prioritise it, and nor will the EU.
Indeed I’ve asked several friends who are in favour to explain how it would work, and none can provide a practical answer.
Paul Gillespie who unlike much of the Dublin media has been giving the matter much thought for a lot of the last three years thinks both parts of Ireland might have better things to prioritise during the negotiation period…
More far-seeing Irish nationalists who support unification are playing a longer game, awaiting the working out of structural and political tensions in the British state which they expect to fall their way.
Nonetheless the Brexit vote immediately raised scenarios of a united Ireland alongside an independent Scotland in international commentary, and this has fed back rapidly into the more cautious and surprisingly ill-prepared Irish public discourse.