It’s been painful watching the privileged classes of the British establishment come face to face reality of the new world order over the last year.
It’s like watching an ageing heavyweight boxing champion who can’t understand why he no longer inspires fear and awe…why his opponents no longer tremble and fall when he lashes out.
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And like the fading fighter who insists on one last bout, Britain’s problems are entirely self-inflicted.
Just over three years ago, high on the drug of its own self-importance as the fifth largest economy in the world, it decided to leave the European Union to revive the glory of the British Empire under the new label of Global Britain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the Leave campaign, argued that the EU needed Britain far more than Britain needed the EU. This would enable Britain to negotiate a fantastic ‘cake and eat’ trade deal in which it could enjoy all the benefits of the being in the European Single Market without having to follow any of the rules or pay a single penny.
The EU insisted that was impossible but Brexit Britain, confident of its own power and superiority, refused to listen.
To be fair, we should quickly point out, not all British people felt this way. Nearly half of them believed Johnson was talking embarrassing nonsense and that Brexit would be disastrous for Britain, both in terms of its economy and its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world.
Despite this, the dream of reviving British glory triumphed, and the Leave campaign won by slender majority of 52% to 48%.
Only after the referendum, as the euphoria of regaining ‘freedom’ began to fade, did the Brexit campaigners begin to realise the problems they had created.
For a start, they had no plan for how Britain should leave the EU. They then spent three years arguing among themselves about what Brexit meant and blaming everyone but themselves when the ‘cake and eat it’ deal was not forthcoming. The EU was clear: it would not change its rules to suit Britain.
The Brexiters regarded the EU’s refusal to do as it was told as an attempt to ‘bully’ the UK.
Unfortunately, for little ‘pipsqueak’ Ireland, it is now at the centre of the dispute because its border with the North will become Britain’s border with the EU after Brexit.
This has led to the much debated ‘backstop’ arrangement whereby Britain will remain largely aligned to EU regulations if no other agreement can be reached to prevent the need for customs checks.
Ireland and the EU insist the backstop must remain if there’s to be a trade deal with Britain.
Britain insists it must be scrapped, leading to the current stalemate.
The Brexiters insist that they are in the right and the other 27 countries of the EU are wrong, and the backstop is just a trick to keep Britain in the EU in all but name.
Unfortunately, much of their anger and frustration is being targeted at Ireland. There’s a sense that these thick paddies don’t know what’s good for them; they don’t realise Ireland needs Britain more than Britain needs Ireland.
The Brexiters point out that Ireland exports a lot of its goods to the UK and will be devastated if that trade is interrupted by a No Deal Brexit. In fact, Ireland imports more from the UK than it exports to it so, if anything, the damage will be worse on the British side. But that’s just an inconvenient fact and Brexit Britain doesn’t concern itself with facts.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has spoken at his irritation with the way British establishment figures think that Ireland should fall in line with Britain and leave the EU as well to remove the Northern Ireland problem.
David Yelland, former editor of the Sun newspaper and Remain supporter, has spoken about how the British establishment and media has decided to blame Ireland for the impasse over Brexit because it is an easier target than the more anonymous EU.
This is leading to a rise in anti-Irish sentiment in some quarters as the sense of superiority inherent in British starts to reassert itself. Referring to Varadkar’s Indian name, Johnson reportedly joked to aides, ‘why can’t he be called Murphy’ like the rest of them’.
Britain’s dominant right-wing media have also been quick to attack Ireland. Columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote about how the Irish needed to be reminded of how much they need Britain. He wrote: “I’m also led to believe that Steve Barclay, who is staying on as Brexit Secretary, has been to Dublin and read the riot act to pipsqueak Irish Prime Minister Lenny Verruca, reminding him on which side of his bread he’ll find the Kerrygold.
“As a consequence, Verruca is coming under serious pressure at home to stop playing silly beggars on the so-called backstop. If he continues to be Michel Barnier’s stooge, the southern portion of the Emerald Isle is facing certain economic ruin.”
Apart from revealing the arrogant, offensive attitude now developing towards Ireland, it also shows the level of wilful delusion still dominating the mindset of the Brexiters. There is no pressure on Varadkar to ditch the backstop. Quite the opposite; support for EU membership has soared to over 90% following the arguments over Brexit.
The Brexiters would also do well to remember that the backstop they are so desperate to ditch is not some Irish/EU plot. It was agreed by the British government under Theresa May after two years of negotiations.