24 June 2016

After Brexit, what now for the North?

I was troubled last night to read people expressing delight at the huge queues at polling booths across the UK. Such a massive turnout, seemingly, was a triumph for democracy. I wasn't so sure. There's far more to democracy than just casting votes, and those who act as though democracy is something that happens but on rare occasions and purely in the privacy of the polling booth do a disservice to democracy. 

If democracy is to mean anything -- if our votes are to mean anything -- we have to participate in an informed way. I was pretty sure that wasn't happening: how valuable are votes cast on the basis of a mythical £350m a week, or to ward off Turkish accession, or in the belief that EU laws are made by unelected bureaucrats, or that there's no way to remove the European Commission from office, or because of the belief that British fishing collapsed when it joined the EEC, or any of a host of other lies? 

The 'Leave' campaigners lied and lied egregiously throughout the Brexit referendum campaign, and did so tapping into decades of popular poison from the British press, and if lots of people who've long felt disenfranchised and ignored should have been willing to go along with this kind of stuff, well, maybe that should have been expected.

I've less sympathy for others, for those who take the pains to be informed of things they care about, but who on other issues prefer instead to listen simply to those whose political views conveniently tally with their own judgments and to shout down calls for them to inform themselves as mere elitism.

So for those who make much of their pro-life credentials, and who dismissed my concerns and those of others about the lives and livelihoods of those in Northern Ireland being actively endangered by a vote to quit the EU, here are just a handful of things they might look before they next put themselves forward to speak as Catholics or pro-lifers, or even just look in the mirror.

Not for nothing has The Irish Times said, "Of all the things that could happen to an Irish government short of the outbreak of war, this is pretty much up there with the worst of them."

Then there was The Guardian a couple of days back, observing that, "Great Britain may be able to weather a Brexit, but Northern Ireland simply cannot."

Lucinda Creighton may not be everyone's cup of tea, but she had a point when she said the other day that, "Brexit poses the greatest threat to the Northern Irish Peace Process since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998."  

For a more cautious take, unsurprisingly from a pro-Brexit paper, The Telegraph warned, "The scenario of the UK leaving the European Union, when a majority of the population of Northern Ireland have opted to remain (and especially if there has been a decisive vote in favour among the nationalist community), may exacerbate tensions, fuel demands for a border poll on Irish unification and challenge the durability of the peace process."  

Then we have from the Centre on Constitutional Change the observation that "a British exit from the EU risks undermining the very self-determination and national sovereignty that its adherents believe it will bring about", continuing, "This is because it risks shattering the fragile balance and stability of the UK by threatening the peace settlement in Northern Ireland ".  

Onetime MEP Brendan Donnelly wrote from the London School of Economics, meanwhile, that "it is clear that much potential exists for the destabilisation of Northern Ireland through a vote to leave the EU on 23 June", continuing, "The Good Friday agreement is under more strain from a currently low level of sectarian violence than is sometimes appreciated".  

At the Euractiv site, Paul Brannan hammers this home when he says, "with politics in Northern Ireland already on the brink of breakdown and the Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy, a UK EU exit threatens a total collapse of the peace process".

And for those who think Britain can keep the show on the road, as though it's taken seriously as an honest broker and was never known as 'perfidious Albion', The New Statesman points out: "Funnily enough, the same people who don't trust Britain to administer the peace process would also be unhappy with the EU leaving that process."

I could say more, but that'll do for now. Words seem unlikely to do any good now the die is cast.

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