Support for unification has increased dramatically in Northern Ireland over the past 8 years [morphed to Brexit revisited]

Yeah. It is a seriously, seriously stupid idea for any government to promote a referendum seeking endorse for a policy that (a) it does not wish to implement, and (b) it has no idea how to implement. I think we can all see that now.

What do you do if you have done the seriously, seriously stupid thing? You can’t pretend you haven’t done it. You need to devise and implement a process for moving forward which takes account of the fact that you have held this referendum, and which takes account of the result. You just don’t have to do it as stunningly badly as it has in fact been done.

Honesty might be your best policy here. You might be honest about the fact that you have no idea how to go about doing this, and that you have concerns that it might be very damaging if done badly. And then you start a consultation and discussion process, with a view to trying to build some kind of consensus around what Brexit is for, what is hoped to be achieved, what is to be feared and what steps can be taken to avoid or avert what is feared, etc, etc. In short, you hold the conversation that you should have held before the referendum.

And, possibly — this is a decision that needs to be made in the process just outined — one of the things you do, when you have a concrete, deliverable programme for Brexit, is put it to the people again. Are we to proceed or, having seen what Brexit involves, do you still wish to go ahead? Brexit supporters would froth at the mouth but, as we’ve seen, no matter what you do Brexit supporters will froth and the mouth. And, in the end, the advocates of the Will of the People can hardly arrogate to themselves the power to decree that the People have No Right To Reconsider The Matter.

So is EU membership going to become UK culture’s new “central heating”? I.e., will there emerge a standard cultural trope of complaining how unbearable and uncomfortable this “foreign” practice is compared to the bracing virtue of hardy British austerity?

Because I have read countless early- to mid-20th century British descriptions of how stifling they find the American practice of central heating, and how it makes rooms far too hot and no fresh air and how nice to get back to the good old British fireside and so on. Meanwhile, the percentage of UK households with central heating has climbed from about 28% in 1970 to something over 95% now, AFAICT.

Is Brexit going to be the next cultural thing that Britons publicly embrace as part of their sturdy stiff-upper-lip self-image even though they’re not actually all that thrilled about the associated discomfort?

Brexit was possible, but what the voters wanted wasn’t possible. What they wanted was “None of the responsibilities of EU membership, but still all of the benefits, and Northern Ireland? What’s that? Never heard of the place”. And when they didn’t get it, they immediately started blaming everyone except the folks who were to blame. Wah, wah, Germany is such a bully, they won’t let us have trade deals just as good or better as they were before! Well, no, of course not, Parliament just voted to reject having good trade deals with Germany, because that’s how they’re stupidly interpreting this stupid referendum you stupid citizens just voted for.

Problem with all this being that it is just going to be perceived as an attempt by Remainers to avoid the outcome, and there is no way in hell you are going to overcome that perception.

It’s like saying to a child “do you want to buy an icecream?” and they say “YES PLEASE!!!” and then you say “well actually it’s a long way to the shops and we don’t have the car right now, and now that I think about it we don’t really have the time”. The child is never going to believe you. Their experience is that you are a parent and you can make almost anything happen if you want to, and you wouldn’t even have asked the question if you didn’t think it was going to be possible. The more so when their Uncle Boris has just spent the last half hour extolling the virtues of getting an icecream, and is now undermining you by saying to the children “I could get you an icecream, no problem”.

No amount of explanation - no matter how accurate and honest - of why it actually isn’t possible to get an icecream is going to help. It is just going to result in a screaming tantrum.

Did May even have the numbers to force through such a discussion?

There is going to be a severe and probably long standing rift between Brexiters who probably won’t even admit to discomfort - let alone admit it’s bothering them - and Remainers.

I don’t hink the parallel is apt, because the process that I’m suggesting is genuinely open to implementing Brexit, and may very well end up doing that.

“Do you want to have an icecream” is quite a specific question about a well-known and fairly concrete object. There is more than one kind of icecream, but the decisions that need to be taken in order to turn this aspiration into actuality are fairly few, and the delivery of any kind of icecream will be a complete fulfilment of the project.

“Shall we have a vacation?” would be a better analogy. Even if everybody in the family feels yes, they’d like to have a vacation, most of the big decisions still need to be made. When will it be? For how long? Shall we go away? Where? What’s our budget? Beach holiday? Adventure holiday? City break? Camping? One place, or multi-centre? When all those decisions have been made, people who voted for a vacation may find that they don’t want that vacation, and the value of the decision-making process is that — if done properly — there’s an incentive to try to attach weight to everyone’s views and concerns, so that you end up with the holiday that secures maximal buy-in. A possible outcome is that the holiday never happens at all, but that’s not the aim. And the one member of the household who insists that “holiday” means kayaking in the Arctic Ocean and that anyone who suggests anything else is attempting to prevent the holiday for which everyone has voted will be treated like the dimwit he is.

As she didn’t have the numbers for the course she did embark on, I’m not sure how big an objection that is to any alternative course.

The point about a discussion of this kind is that you don’t “force it through”. You don’t have a predetermined outcome in mind; you’re seeking to facilitate the development of a consensus. May spent several months making it very plain that she had no clue what Brexit was about and how it should be conducted; that is what her “Brexit means Brexit!” slogan tells us. Can we really persuade ourselves that the best course is to allow Brexit policy to be determined by the person who hasn’t got an idea about Brexit? A wider consulation and conversation was the screamingly obvious way to go about this. As I pointed out before, it’s how other countries have handled it, with vastly better results.

The problem, though, may not have been the numbers, so much as British political culture, which is strongly oppositional and does not foster consensus-building. It might have been that May might at attempted to do what I am suggesting, and failed.

But what was there to lose? Had she done that, the UK would be in no worse a position than it is now - a government forcing through a Brexit that most people feel is a mistake,and that most people know will do signficant and lasting harm to the country. A political system that does that is obviously dysfunctional, and the idea that there was no alternative way of doing things that might have led to any better result is a counsel of despair.

The good old British fireside lost its charm in 1952 during the ‘Great Smog’ when the air stilled for several days during winter and all the smoke from the coal fires lingered and blanketed the nation in a dense fog. It was so bad, it came indoors. Thousands of people died and suffered from respiratory illness. The discovery of huge reserves of natural gas under the sea bed led to a national policy to develop the gas network and run it on North Sea Gas. The coal fires were replaced by gas fires. I can tell you getting up on a cold winter morning cleaning a fireplace and then making a fire from newspaper, wood kindling and coal was not a duty that many people looked forward to, even if it did look very pleasant when it got going, after an hour or so.

On the other hand, air conditioning in a domestic setting is rare in the UK because cool climate means it is only really relevant for a couple of weeks at the height of summer. That is probably a better analogy. Plenty of people the would regard air conditioning as an indulgence that is costly, needs someone to service and not needed most of the time. Most people just open the windows to let some air circulate or maybe use a fan, if they need it.

Is Brexit going to be something like that? Well no.

Most Britons are utterly bemused and confused by the whole business. It was presented as an opportunity to express an opinion through the ballot box on ‘EU membership’. Now most voters have only a rather vague idea that it is something to with economics and trade. So in order to simplify things, various political personalities decided to help by explaining that it was about saving money for NHS, rejecting silly laws from foreign bureaucrats, stopping immigration (especially for foreign criminals). But most of all, it was an opportunity for any voter, unhappy with the political class in Westminster, to give them a big kick up the backside! It was a protest vote. The EU represented a big collection of negative issues that had been regularly reviled in the press for several decades. The EU was height of bureaucratic waste, stupid laws and the UK government giving away tax money to undeserving foreigners.

The government rather stupidly asked a question of the public that required a simple yes or no. But it represented a political imperative to change the strategic direction of the UK away from engaging with European institutions towards…somewhere else.

Brexit has had little cultural significance to the public. It did not represent anything more than a rude gesture to a bunch of politicians who could not agree on a policy towards Europe. They asked a stupid question and got an ill considered answer. Quite predictable.

The UK is representative democracy. Politicians are supposed to decide national policy on behalf of the voters. It is not a democratic system that regularly puts questions to the pubic. There are countries that do that. But they are very careful about what they ask and make sure that everyone understands the implications.

If Brexit has any cultural meaning it will be for the endless squabbles amongst the privileged class of Conservative politicians who cannot decide what it is, what it means and what they should do next. They have campaigned for years with remarkable conviction. We learnt how keen they were that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, that it is a 'Red, White and Blue Brexit and that they were dedicated to ‘Getting Brexit Done’. This sort of nonsense does not mean much to the public. That is the Conservative party taking to itself in the coded language that emerges as one faction argues with another behind the scenes.

For the public it seems to mean that we can’t sell fresh fish to the French any more and our plucky fishermen in their little boats are all going out of business. That new passports are going to change colour and we will need visas and insurance to go on holiday. That the politics in Northern Ireland might start kicking off again. The only positive is that the EU have failed to rollout vaccines quickly, so we have dodged at least one bullet. Brexit seems an anti-climax because it has been eclipsed by Covid19 and a locked down economy and no-one can travel anywhere while it goes on.

However, once the Covid cloud has lifted, hopefully later this year. The UK will find out it remains under another cloud composed of the consequences of rashly abandoning its trading links with Europe. The public will complain mightily about any inconvenience and the British newspapers will blame the French. I expect there will be crises and arguments that could take an unpleasant nationalistic tinge. But for now the powder is being kept dry.

Your vacation analogy misses the point because it is apt for the actual situation with Brexit. Everyone knows that deciding to have a vacation is only the first step in deciding what to do.

My ice cream analogy is apt for my point under discussion precisely because Brexiters believed very firmly that it was an ice cream situation no matter how wrong that may be. And convincing them after the fact that it was a vacation analogy situation runs into the exact difficulty that I outlined in my previous post.

Pointing out that May didn’t have the numbers to force a reasonable discussion, or the solution that she chose, just emphasises that she was screwed, no matter what she did. If she had gone for your suggestion, then she just would have been rolled even quicker by pro Brexiters, and we would be where we are now. I guess maybe you are right that history would have looked on her more kindly if she had at least tried.

It’s more a case of deciding whether or not to vacation in France and promising that if everyone votes to go to France they’ll all get to travel first class for £1, and calling anyone pointing out that one can’t travel to France first class for £1 a “moaner” and then, after the vote to go to France, discovering not only that what was promised was unachievable but that due to poor planning there are no flights, trains or ferries available to get to France on terms that are acceptable for everyone, and then simply declaring that as it was the “will of the people” to go to France the new plan was to simply drive off Beachy Head at high speed and hope to make it to the other side.

And that’s where the UK is right now. In freefall, having driven off a cliff for stupid, dishonest reasons.

I’m Australian but I grew up on English children’s books, I lived in the UK for a while and my wife is from the UK and I have a lot of clients and friends there so I go over every few years at least, and so I have to admit to a lot of affection for the place.

The whole thing just makes me sad.

It’s going very well.

COVID has been one factor, but still:

Salmon exports to the EU are down 98%.
Beef down 92%
Cheese down 85%
Pork down 86%
All food and drink in total down 75.5%

And on topic:

Wonder how much of that was from or through NI…

Virtually none of it would be through NI; if you’re shipping goods from most places in Great Britain to the Republic, going via NI would be a very circuitous route. In fact the reverse is more common; a large proportion of Ni/GB trade is shipped via the port of Dublin.

And only a small proportion of UK exports to the Republic would originate in NI, simply because NI is such a tiny part of the UK economy. But those exports have been unaffected; NI to RoI exports are slightly up relative to 12 months ago, in sharp distinction from GB to RoI exports. This is course the result of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which meand NI escapes the barriers to trading with the EU which the British government has chosen to impose on GB.

Thanks - that makes sense.

Well, it all makes sense except for this part …


What is it about the last 5-ish years that have so many advanced countries on Earth hell-bent on wrecking themselves? That’s a rhetorical question; I’m not trying to trigger a hijack. We have threads and threads on that already .

UDS1’s post made sense. Little about Brexit and the way it was implemented makes sense.


A little late to this party, but a few days ago this came up in my YouTube recommendations:

It’s a video made by four seventeen-year old students in Derry/Londonderry, two Protestant and two Catholic. They talk about Northern Ireland’s segregated schools, and how viewers couldn’t tell which two kids are Catholic and which two are Protestant, until they put on their school uniforms. Then they switch uniforms and wander around the city (in the thumbnail, the young woman on the left is a Protestant, wearing a Catholic school uniform. The woman on the right is the opposite). And of course, they find they have much more in common than that which separates them.

It’s rather heartening.

For a diversion that looks are life in Northern Ireland in time gone by without the heavy drama check out Derry Girls on Netflix.

It is a very funny sitcom set in Londonderry during the Troubles. It is not so much about the politics but the lives of Catholic schoolgirls dealing with the usual teenage anxieties. The politics and concerns of the adult world happen in the background with the bomb scares and army checkpoints and the endless arguments between their cantankerous family members, eccentric priests and sweary nuns.
I really needed the help of subtitles because of the strong dialect but it is worth it. Quite rude and funny and very entertaining and well acted…So it is!

I was actually watching the “Differences between Protestants and Catholics” scene from “Derry Girls”, which is why the video I posted came up in my recommendations. “Protestants hate ABBA!”

Enthusiastically seconding this recommendation. The show is terrific, frequently hilarious and occasionally quite moving.

And, yeah, you’re likely to need the subtitles.