MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why Brexit is a headache that just won’t go away
Unfortunately, it will not be so simple. ‘Signed and sealed’ was the painless bit of Brexit – except, or course, for politicians; it caused them plenty of headaches.
Delivery, on the other hand, is likely to hurt us all. The agreement allows free trade to continue between the EU and the UK but there will be a lot more bureaucracy. Brexit threatened to build a trade-wall across Ireland. We have been spared that but have been landed instead with a customs border between this island and Britain. It’s a soft border and it won’t make trade impossible. But it will certainly make it more difficult.
Ireland is the EU country most exposed to damage from Brexit. But the greatest harm will be to Britain itself. Its trade is likely to decline along with its status in the world and, for many Britons, there is the additional blow of losing European citizenship.
Two old friends from London summed up the feeling with a note on their Christmas card. “It must be lovely to be living in the EU,” was the wistful message.
I feel sorry for them and even more sorry for younger people who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Union and for those too young to vote who have had their future blighted by the selfish nostalgia of their elders.
But that’s the price of democracy. The majority rules.
Unless you are in Scotland. Then England rules.
In England there is a substantial number of voters with a deep-seated distrust of Europe and they carried the day in the referendum four years ago. Scottish attitudes are closer to our own, which is why Scotland voted comfortably to remain. If the delivery of Brexit does not go well there will be irresistible pressure in Scotland for another independence vote and this time it is likely to be carried.
An independent Scotland would have huge implications for Northern Ireland. Unionists have strong emotional ties to Scotland. On the Twelfth of July, loyalists fly Scottish flags along with Ulster flags and Unions Jacks. Many of them support Glasgow Rangers; they buy a Scottish newspaper on Sundays and encourage (in theory, at least) the speaking of Ulster-Scots, the “hamely tongue” of the Scottish lowlands. They may see economic benefits in a link with London, but their heart-strings are tugged from Edinburgh.
The North voted to remain in the EU but most unionists voted to leave. They saw their vote as strengthening their position within the UK. A United Kingdom that consists only of England and Wales would not appeal to them, so a Scottish exit from the UK could well be followed by the departure of Northern Ireland.
It’s a possibility that needs to be planned for on this side of the border.
The immediate problems of Brexit are enough for our Government to contend with, but I hope that, somewhere in the Department of Foreign Affairs, officials are pondering the long-term consequences and all the possibilities.
For more than 50 years, Michael Wolsey has been writing columns and comment pieces for newspapers in Ireland and Britain and a collection of these has now been published by Amazon.
‘As I was Saying – Fifty Years of Comment from the Columns of Irish Newspapers’ is a wry look at changing times and issues that are sometimes serious, more often humorous. All proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to Nala, the National Adult Literacy Agency, which helps adults who have difficulty reading.
‘As I Was Saying’ can be ordered from Amazon or the Kindle book store in both e-reader and paperback formats.