Brexit: what the hell happens now? And Brexit and Ireland – Two interesting books on Brexit…

Let me be clear from the outset: I am a Remainer. I’ve not seen or read anything that would materially change my opinion. The European Union (EU) may have its problems, but overall I see it as a force for good.

I live in N Ireland; here, we voted to remain in the EU. But the vote of the English outweighed this, and the vote in Scotland. The ‘will of the people’ is to Leave. The government triggered the Article 50 mechanism over a year ago; we would be leaving the EU and Euratom. The prime minister said that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and emphasised her red lines and that we would leave the Customs Union (CU) and the Single Market (SM). She called a general election to reinforce her view, and to increase her majority; she lost, having no majority now. Nonetheless, discussions began between the UK and the EU. The UK had to agree that the three main parts of the leaving arrangement were, firstly, the position of EU nationals in the UK and vice-versa; secondly, the size of the UK’s ‘divorce bill’; and thirdly the Irish Border. How did the border between N Ireland and the Republic of Ireland come to be so significant?

The EU has invested many millions into cross-border projects here. The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement twenty years ago materially changed the landscape. The watch towers and military paraphernalia at the border were dismantled; today, there is little to be seen. Other than a subtle change in the road markings, there is no visible evidence of a border.

Before the referendum there was much ‘debate’ on television; so often this seemed, and still seems, to be rhetoric, shouting across people, and the repetition of ’sound bites’. I can recall ‘take back control’, but without knowing quite what ‘control’ might be; and that slogan on the bus about funding the NHS. I don’t remember such powerful phrases from the Remain side.

I wouldn’t be a good TV pundit; I don’t consider myself telegenic, and I can’t think quickly on my feet. Not that quick thinking is necessary when all that seems necessary is the ability to shout down the opponent. Rather, not only am I a slow thinker, I’m evidence-driven, I’m empirical. I look for information in the printed word, where I can read and slowly digest, and make my own mind up. I found two books particularly helpful in this Brexit debate.

Ian Dunt is an English political commentator and a Remainer. His Brexit: what the hell happens now? (here) is a thorough examination of what the EU is and what it does; what it comprises, and how it functions. The second edition has a blurb on the front saying ‘For people who still believe in experts’. It’s based, in part, on discussions with ‘experts’. If you want to know what the SM is, and who is in it, or what the CU is and who its members are, this is the place to go. You will also discover the Codex Alimentarius, something I was entirely ignorant of before I read the book. Yes, the Codex is important.

Sean Danaher wrote a review of the first edition (here). He wrote,

This is the first full public exploration of Brexit, stripped of the wishful thinking of its supporters in the media and Parliament. It is the real picture of a country about to undergo a sharp and self-inflicted isolation. This book is for people who still believe in evidence and in experts.

And he notes how Dunt explains why Brexit is likely to:

• make the UK poorer

• leave industries like pharmaceuticals and finance struggling to operate

• threaten to break up the United Kingdom

The second book is Tony Connelly’s Brexit and Ireland (here). Connelly is the RTÉ correspondent resident in Brussels. He has quite remarkable access to all the important people involved. He describes how the Irish government prepared in advance for a Leave vote, something the British government didn’t do, and how they got the ear of Brussels about the border problem. He takes us through various sectors of industry, and how they will be impacted, while at the same time describing how the discussions have panned out. I was quite unaware of the significance of ducks to Aughnacloy and Emyvale beforehand.

Sean Danaher reviewed this recently:

[H]e tells the dramatic untold story of the Irish response to this political and economic earthquake and lays out the agenda for the uncertain years ahead. Drawing on unprecedented access to insiders in Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels, Brexit and Ireland is full of insights about how the EU actually works, and of colourful and revealing stories from the corridors of power. Connelly talks to the business leaders, farmers and entrepreneurs on the front lines of the crisis, and traces the various ways in which Brexit is likely to change our lives.

Whether you are a true believer, a Leaver, or a Remoaner, I heartily encourage you to read both these books and make up your own minds.

In the meantime, ponder this: five countries from the former Yugoslavia, and Albania, are to attend a conference in July; it is to encourage them to join the EU ‘for the sake of their security, stability and prosperity’. Nothing surprising in that, you might think. But the conference will be in London, hosted by the British government, the same government which is leaving the EU. I am not making this up.

My thanks to SeaanUiNeill for inadvertently suggesting this topic, and (in advance) to Sean Danaher for the quotes.