SCOT­TISH PER­SPEC­TIVE

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It’s one of the para­doxes of ur­ban ar­chi­tec­ture in th­ese islands that the Ir­ish cap­i­tal, Dublin, is in some ways the most Bri­tish-look­ing city of them all. Its mix­ture of brick-built Ge­or­gian do­mes­tic ar­chi­tec­ture, grand grey pub­lic build­ings, and tree-lined au­tumn streets, of­ten re­calls Lon­don with a sur­pris­ing sharp­ness; and while the green post-boxes and Ir­ish-lan­guage signs act as con­stant re­minders that this is not Eng­land, there’s never a mo­ment’s doubt that we are in the isles once called Bri­tish, in a place whose very street names still speak of a long shared his­tory, as well as of the mo­ment of schism that led to Ire­land’s in­de­pen­dence, 95 years ago.

So it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that the shock­waves of Bri­tain’s Brexit de­ci­sion last June seem to be felt even more strongly here than they are in the UK. Like Scot­land, Ire­land is a small coun­try hugely de­pen­dent on trade with its large neighbour; and in the last decade fol­low­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and the end of Ire­land’s “Celtic Tiger” years of pros­per­ity, the coun­try has un­der­gone a harsh ed­u­ca­tion in the 21st cen­tury lim­its of na­tional sovereignty in times of fi­nan­cial stress.

So the last time I vis­ited Dublin’s In­ter­na­tional The­atre Fes­ti­val, two years ago, I saw a pow­er­ful play about the mo­ment, back in 2010, when the Ir­ish govern­ment had to ac­cept the ar­rival in its cor­ri­dors of Euro­pean Union and In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund of­fi­cials sent to en­force not only gen­eral fi­nan­cial dis­ci­pline, but also spe­cific pol­icy pro­pos­als, from cut­ting ru­ral bus ser­vices to rais­ing pre­scrip­tion charges. This time, I found a na­tion hugely pre­oc­cu­pied – to the ex­tent of re­ports in ev­ery news bul­letin I heard – with the ques­tion of what on earth is go­ing to hap­pen to Ire­land’s huge trade across the Ir­ish Sea, at the mo­ment in 2019 when the UK leaves, or crashes out of, the Euro­pean Union. A to­tal of 47 per cent of Ire­land’s agri­cul­tural and food ex­ports go to the UK; and es­ti­mates sug­gest that to­tal Uk-ir­ish trade could de­crease by more than 20 per cent if there is a re­ver­sion to World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion rules and tar­iffs, knock­ing a huge hole in Ire­land’s grad­ual but in­creas­ingly impressive eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

And all this is to say noth­ing of the key con­cerns sur­round­ing the border with North­ern Ire­land, which has be­come one of the main stum­bling-blocks in the cur­rent Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions. When the Bri­tish me­dia re­port on the pro­nounce­ments of Michel Barnier, and on the three mat­ters that must be re­solved be­fore Bri­tain can be­gin to strike a new EU trade deal, they al­ways give the im­pres­sion that the key dif­fer­ence is about Bri­tain’s so-called “di­vorce bill”, a sub­ject which makes for juicy anti-eu head­lines.

The fact is, though, that 16 months on from the Brexit vote, the UK has still failed com­pletely on both of the other out­stand­ing is­sues, nei­ther of­fer­ing a ba­sic guar­an­tee on the rights of EU ci­ti­zens liv­ing here, or pro­duc­ing any­thing re­sem­bling a cred­i­ble plan for the Ir­ish border fol­low­ing Brexit. There were good rea­sons why Ire­land and the UK, with their economies so tightly in­ter­linked, joined the EU to­gether, on 1 Jan­uary, 1973. And yet now, just a few years af­ter the Queen’s his­toric 2011 visit to Dublin seemed to mark a new era of ever-closer part­ner­ship between the two na­tions, the Bri­tish govern­ment and peo­ple have com­mit­ted a huge act of be­trayal against our near­est neighbour and ally, by uni­lat­er­ally tak­ing a step that will al­most cer­tainly in­flict ma­jor eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal dam­age on the whole is­land of Ire­land, for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

The Ir­ish, in other words, have ev­ery right to be an­gry; an­gry with David Cameron for call­ing the ref­er­en­dum with­out con­sul­ta­tion in a failed at­tempt to set­tle an in­ter­nal Tory spat; an­gry with the abysmal level of de­bate dur­ing a cam­paign in which Ire­land and its peace process was barely men­tioned; an­gry with the con­sti­tu­tional in­ep­ti­tude which al­lowed such a vast his­toric de­ci­sion to be made by such a ris­i­bly nar­row mar­gin, and on such a demon­stra­bly false prospec­tus. Mo­rally, the Ir­ish premier Leo Varad­kar would be jus­ti­fied in do­ing ev­ery­thing in his power to block, de­lay and veto the mo­ment of Brexit; and it’s likely that a huge, cur­rently un­rep­re­sented chunk of Bri­tish vot­ers – those who never wanted Brexit in the first place, and for whom nei­ther Labour nor Tory lead­er­ships will speak – would wish him ev­ery suc­cess in do­ing so.

In a sense, though, the be­trayal of our Ir­ish al­lies en­tailed in the Brexit sham­bles is only one as­pect, if an out­stand­ingly im­por­tant one, of the gen­eral be­trayal of com­mon sense, and of our shared fu­tures, that char­ac­terises the whole Brexit process. I sup­pose it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that a 21st cen­tury Brexit cam­paign based on 19th cen­tury fan­tasies of Bri­tish power and sovereignty should fail to reckon with the re­cent his­tory of that part of th­ese islands which has had to learn most, and most rapidly, about the lim­its of mod­ern sovereignty, and about the so­phis­ti­cated, multi-lay­ered qual­ity of mod­ern iden­tity; we in Scot­land, af­ter all, have al­ready been given an un­pleas­ant crash course in just how much the UK govern­ment cares about our 62 per cent vote to re­main, or about the gen­eral idea of di­ver­sity en­shrined in the de­vo­lu­tion set­tle­ment. Even those who care noth­ing for Ire­land or Scot­land, though, should be wary of a process based on such a care­less tram­pling of the peace­ful and nu­anced po­lit­i­cal struc­tures, both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal, that have been built up over the decades since the Sec­ond World War. For half a cen­tury, those evolv­ing struc­tures – in var­i­ous forms – have been cre­at­ing and sus­tain­ing the peace­ful re­al­ity in which most of us in this coun­try have lived; and we have in­creas­ingly been able to take them for granted. Now, though, on both sides of the At­lantic, a form of sim­plis­tic retro-na­tion­al­ism has been un­leashed which ac­tively wants to tear those struc­tures down, al­most re­gard­less of the con­se­quences. The dan­ger to all of us, as hu­man be­ings and ci­ti­zens, is pal­pa­ble, al­ready vis­i­ble in our loom­ing loss of EU rights; and if Ire­land is the first and most ob­vi­ous vic­tim of Bri­tain’s Brexit folly, it most cer­tainly will not be the last.

0 Home from home: Dublin still has a very Bri­tish feel de­spite go­ing its own way, says Joyce Mcmil­lan

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