Own your shit, Nigel!

The New European - - Agenda - Ed­i­tor-at-large Alas­tair Camp­bell

Last Fri­day I had the very pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence of trav­el­ling to an­other coun­try with­out leav­ing my own. A short tube ride down the Ju­bilee Line and I was in Ire­land.

The Late Late Show, one of the most high-rat­ing shows any­where in the world, mea­sured by the share of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion watch­ing, de­camped from Dublin for one night only to be broad­cast live from Cen­tral Methodist Hall in West­min­ster. The Lon­don au­di­ence of al­most 1,500 was taken from the Ir­ish com­mu­nity across the UK.

De­mand had been huge. There were crowds out­side of dis­ap­pointed peo­ple un­able to get in. A group hang­ing around the guests’ en­trance blagged their way in thanks to a young woman putting her arm through mine as we walked in, an­nounc­ing con­fi­dently to se­cu­rity that she was my daugh­ter and her friends were her sib­lings. I was so ad­mir­ing of the charm and the chutz­pah that I said noth­ing other than “that was re­ally Ir­ish”, as they scut­tled off to the main hall to blag a seat, and I was led to the green room.

I have never ac­tu­ally been to a green room that was green, but for once it was vaguely well-named given how dom­i­nant were the Ir­ish voices and how freely the craic was de­vel­op­ing. Lively and fun are rarely words I would as­so­ciate with

Bri­tish ‘green rooms’. This one was both, not least be­cause some of the top Ir­ish mu­si­cians about to per­form were tun­ing up next door.

The rea­son for the de­camp­ment was Brexit, so that even the non-brexit guests were asked about it. Chat show host Gra­ham Nor­ton com­pared it to a man who had de­cided to chop his foot off, de­spite the cer­tain knowl­edge that chop­ping off his foot would dam­age him, be­cause he had al­ready an­nounced his in­ten­tion to chop his foot off. “I said I was do­ing it and I am just jolly well go­ing to do it” kind of thing.

Bren­dan O’car­roll, aka Mrs Brown, whose Mrs Brown’s Boys show is as hugely pop­u­lar in the UK as in Ire­land, could not wait to be asked about Brexit. As I knew from our green room ex­changes, he hates it, can­not un­der­stand why we are do­ing it, wishes that we weren’t, and gladly signed up to record a video to urge Brits and Ir­ish alike to march for a Peo­ple’s Vote on Satur­day. As we waited back­stage when O’car­roll was be­ing in­ter­viewed, Nigel Farage, who was to be shar­ing the Brexit panel with me, will have heard O’car­roll say on air that if the for­mer UKIP leader had his way, peo­ple like him would never have been wel­come in the UK.

Farage is very good at the hail fel­low well met act and is al­ways up for a friendly chat about foot­ball or – some­thing of an ob­ses­sion – which jour­nal­ists mat­ter and which broad­cast­ers are good at so­cial me­dia. But I couldn’t help notic­ing he was nip­ping out more than usual for a fag. He may have picked up on the sev­eral peo­ple in there – among them for­mer Ire­land foot­ball man­ager Mick Mccarthy, broad­caster Amanda Scan­lon, tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and model Laura Whit­more and her boyfriend, Scot­tish co­me­dian Iain Stir­ling – who seemed to be do­ing their best to avoid an in­tro­duc­tion lest a pos­si­ble re­sponse of­fend.

The Brexit panel was last on the show – which in true Late Late style over­ran – and un­like the other guests, who were an­nounced as they walked down stairs to the so­fas, we were spared panto-style boo­ing or cheer­ing by be­ing seated dur­ing a break.

Farage was nei­ther booed nor cheered. But when he made a di­rect com­par­i­son be­tween Ire­land win­ning in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish crown be­ing on a par with the UK leav­ing the EU he lost them and never got them back. Even pre­sen­ter Ryan Tubridy, who is more Frost than Pax­man in his style and keeps his own views to him­self, sug­gested “pe­cu­liar his­tor­i­cal com­par­isons” were not help­ful. Farage’s an­gry splut­ter­ing was some­what drowned by the ap­plause for Tubridy’s ob­ser­va­tion.

His­tor­i­cal ig­no­rance has played a big role in get­ting us to the mess we are now in. De­spite John Ma­jor and Tony Blair’s ef­forts, the po­ten­tial im­pact of Brexit on the peace process and the dan­gers of chang­ing the bor­der ar­range­ments be­tween north and south barely fig­ured in the ref­er­en­dum de­bate. De­spite the ef­forts of the Ir­ish busi­ness com­mu­nity, nor did the po­ten­tial im­pact on the Ir­ish econ­omy. The Ir­ish are sec­ond only to the UK in terms of the dam­age a bad Brexit or a no-deal Brexit will do.

The ig­no­rance has con­tin­ued into govern­ment. Shortly be­fore he died, Sinn Féin’s for­mer deputy first min­is­ter Mar­tin Mcguin­ness said of his first meet­ing with Theresa May that he was shocked by how lit­tle she seemed to know about North­ern Ire­land and how lit­tle she seemed to un­der­stand the com­plex­ity of the is­sues there. Un­sur­pris­ingly per­haps, given she of­ten re­minds peo­ple she is the leader of the Con­ser­va­tive and Union­ist Party, he also felt she saw the pol­i­tics of North­ern Ire­land through a Union­ist prism.

That was even be­fore her failed at­tempt to win a land­slide for her now very pink­ish red lines, and an elec­tion gam­bit which led to her need­ing the sup­port of the blood-red lined DUP to prop up her govern­ment, at the cost of what could yet turn out to be the least ef­fec­tive one bil­lion pound bribe of all time.

Then of course we had the as­ton­ish­ing ad­mis­sion from sec­re­tary of state Karen Bradley – it is one thing to be ig­no­rant, quite an­other to ad­mit it – that she did not know be­fore she took the job that union­ists didn’t vote for na­tion­al­ists and vice versa.

The ig­no­rance of his­tory has been matched by wil­ful dis­re­gard for the re­al­i­ties of the pres­sures that Brexit has put on Ire­land both in the North and in the Re­pub­lic. Rather than ad­mit there is an is­sue with the bor­der – and I think I pre­fer to heed the word of the head of the Po­lice Ser­vice North­ern Ire­land on this – when asked for an ac­tual plan, Brex­trem­ists blus­ter that the is­sue has been “weaponised” by Re­main­ers, the EU, and the Ir­ish govern­ment. Both their no-deal and the Canada-type free trade deal op­tions can­not be de­liv­ered with­out un­der­min­ing fun­da­men­tal tenets of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment. They seem nei­ther to know nor care.

Fair to say on the Late Late, I was on home ground, with most Ir­ish peo­ple, in the UK and Ire­land, very op­posed to Brexit and the dam­age it will do to both coun­tries. So whether point­ing out that the Brexit now on of­fer bore no re­sem­blance to the Brexit promised by any­one, or telling Farage to “own your shit, Nigel” as he trot­ted out his beloved be­trayal nar­ra­tive, the au­di­ence seemed to­tally on­side. But I think the warm­est re­sponse came when I told them about the march, and urged them to join it, be­cause they too have a stake in try­ing to win a Peo­ple’s Vote, with the op­tion to Re­main.

In her state­ment to the Com­mons on the lat­est twists of the Brexit farce, Theresa May was re­peat­edly asked why she would not even con­sider a Peo­ple’s Vote as a pos­si­ble way out of the im­passe. Her for­mu­laic, at times word-for-word re­sponse, to the ef­fect that we had the Peo­ple’s Vote on June 23, 2016, re­minded me so much, in tone and sub­stance, of her con­stant de­nials after she first be­came prime min­is­ter that she in­tended to hold a snap elec­tion. That gave me hope.

So did the one re­sponse when, de­lib­er­ately or not, she slipped the moor­ings of her for­mula. Tory MP Heidi Allen asked her whether, in the event of a no-deal she knows she can’t get through the Com­mons, and given she says she would not ask for more time from the EU, the only way out of the im­passe might be to put the is­sue back to the peo­ple.

That she did not say de­liver a ro­bot-style ‘no’ may have been be­cause she was tired and lost her con­cen­tra­tion. Or it may be that she is slowly inch­ing to­wards the logic. So when she said we would have to “see what po­si­tion the House would take in those cir­cum­stances”, that might have been a very im­por­tant mo­ment. If so, a huge show of pub­lic sup­port for a Peo­ple’s Vote can only help de­liver the right out­come for the coun­try.

The last Peo­ple’s Vote march in Lon­don, which drew a crowd of more than 100,000, was a turn­ing point in that it was the mo­ment when the me­dia re­alised this was a proper cam­paign. Satur­day has to be a sim­i­lar turn­ing point, the mo­ment when it dawns on MPS that if they re­sist the idea of the deal be­ing put back to the peo­ple, the peo­ple will ex­act a price.

It must be big. I be­lieve it will be. And if there are a few Ir­ish in there too, thanks a mil­lion, you’re very wel­come. Two phrases I heard rather more of­ten than Nigel Farage did last Fri­day.

Photo: Con­trib­uted

WE MEET AGAIN: Alas­tair Camp­bell with Nigel Farage and Lib­eral Demo­crat Baroness Dee Doocey onThe Late Late Show sofa

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.