Irish in Britain: ‘Brexit makes moving home a reality’

Readers in London and around the country respond to this week’s Border talks

Peter Coghlan: ‘Leave-supporting politicians and their pliant media outlets are looking for scapegoats and the Irish are in the firing line just now.’

Following the collapse of a proposed deal on the Irish Border, which would have allowed the Brexit talks to advance to the next stage, we asked readers living in Britain about their own views of the Brexit talks this week, and the conversations they have been hearing around them.

We received a huge response from readers describing the widespread confusion about or disinterest in issues pertaining to the Border and Northern Ireland among the British public, and their own personal concerns about their future status as Irish citizens living in Britain.

Below is a selection of the contributions we received.

Kevin Byrne, London: ‘My partner and I will move home in 2018’

Since the referendum was announced, I’ve been worried and more than a little bemused by the disregard shown to the question of the Irish border and also the status of Irish people living and working in the UK. Patronising reassurances from the UK government that Ireland would be treated differently and that we had nothing to worry about have certainly not come to fruition, like many of the Brexit mistrusts and blatant lies that have subsequently been disproved.


Overall, my view as an Irishman is one of disbelief at how the UK has got to this position, and allowed such an act of self-harm, and also that it blatantly hadn’t and still hasn’t got a plan in place for leaving the EU. Personally, I can’t see any upside and think my partner and I will move home at some point during 2018.

David Scott, Cambridge: ‘I’m a unionist but don’t understand the DUP’s position’

I grew up in Northern Ireland as a unionist (not a DUP supporter) and have never been particularly familiar with either the politics or the politicians from the Republic of Ireland. I've been shocked to see in the last week the interests of family and friends in Northern Ireland apparently better represented by Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney than by anyone in the UK.

I honestly don’t understand the DUP position. I was pleased to see several reports by the BBC from the border areas. Apart from that most of the press coverage of Brexit in the UK has focused on trade, and has completely missed the other impacts of a (hard) border. I wish this had been discussed properly during the referendum campaign.

Ronan Daly, London: ‘Nobody knows who the DUP is’

Brexit has only recently has begun to dominate the news, and even still it’s rarely front and centre (unlike in the media in Dublin). Nobody understands the issue or knows who the DUP is. People don’t really get what the fuss is about. London is far removed from the issues of Northern Ireland. The final solution on the border will have little impact on their lives.

Barry O’Connor, Oxfordshire: ‘I am encouraging my children and grandchildren to get Irish passports’

I am retired and living in a pleasant Oxfordshire village. Local people are generally not Brexiteers, and tend to share my concerns on the economic, cultural and political outlook for the UK, focused on the difficulties our children and grandchildren may face.

A classmate at a course at Oxford University that I am currently taking, Belfast-born and raised, asked me what I thought of the “DUP circus” yesterday and our opinion was pretty much the same - a few MPs representing 750,000 people dictating the future of 60 million was nonsense.

I am not worried about my position in society here, having both a UK and Irish passport. I am encouraging my children and grandchildren to get Irish passports also. I do think the “special relationship” between Ireland and the UK is in trouble, mainly from UK (predominantly English) introspection.

Brum Sankey, Glasgow: ‘The uncertainty makes moving home to Ireland more of a reality’

It is a very unsettling time for those of us that have built a life here. We own property here. In the new year our second child will be born here. We have lived here as a couple for almost 10 years and yet we face the possibility that we could no longer have the right to live and work here. Most people here are oblivious to what it all means for us until I tell them. Something needs to be done to assure families that they are welcome, and will keep the same right to work here as they currently have. The uncertainty makes moving home to Ireland more of a reality in our family’s near future. I’m sure there’ll be many more like us.

Gerard Brady, Blackpool: ‘I worry about my children and grandchildren’s futures’

I have lived in England for 47 years and always found it to be welcoming and tolerant. I am not so sure now. I worry about my children and grandchildren's futures. So far I have been impressed by Leo Varadkar and his firm and sensible approach to these matters. I do hope that there is cross party agreement in the Dáil and that party politics are put to one side in the national interest. This has not happened here which has led to a growth in the far right.

Eric Wrafter, Nottingham: ‘I feel very betrayed’

I’ve been living in the UK since 2011 and voted Remain. I haven’t suffered any racism but I feel very betrayed and worried about the future. I feel it’s a supreme act of selfishness by people who are motivated by feelings rather than truth and compassion for others. I had at least one Leave-voting friend feel devastated that she’d put me in a precarious position, especially when they began talking about companies needing to register EU workers. My Spanish other half says she’s been asked when she’s leaving. I thought Britain was better than this, and I’ve built a life here, but I’m beginning to look at other countries to move to.

Paul Cahill, Chelmsford: ‘Average people don’t understand the issues at stake’

My Irish wife and I live in a pro-Brexit area and the result didn't surprise us. Attitudes to Europe are totally different to Irish attitudes and this is probably due to history and the fact that in living memory nothing but trouble and death have come from continental Europe whereas Ireland had received glimpses of hope and help. When it comes to understanding the depth of the issue, the average man or woman on the street here doesn't understand the issues at stake. We have argued over dinner with Brexiter friends to no avail. They think they will be independent. We have decided that the economic impact could be so large, we will return home.

John McNeil Scott, Glasgow: ‘I’ve been really impressed by Leo Varadkar’

I have just moved to Glasgow after a few years in Belfast. I saw Brexit upend the acquiescence that moderate nationalists - including me - felt about Northern Ireland. It was unconscionable to think of a harder border in Ireland. The 80 per cent Unionist vote for it was felt as a huge betrayal of their nationalist neighbours.

Now I am seeing and hearing things from a Scottish perspective. I’ve been really impressed by Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government’s approach. Proud even. There was a solid majority here in Scotland for Remain and real frustration now. There is a sense of envy of, and support for, Ireland among some friends and colleagues.

But I also hear the latent anti-Irishness that still lurks. Dismissive, tail-wagging-the-dog sort of talk. It really feels like the UK has become a kind of “Frankenstein state”,- stumbling about, without direction or control, damaging itself and all around it. Some of my Scottish friends feel a sense of dread at being shacked to this monster but with no easy way to be free from it. “We’ll have to wait until it gets really bad”, they say, “before people will wake up.”

Noel Mooney, Bradford: ‘People are afraid of change’

I live in an idyllic village of Silsden. The overriding sense here is the fear of change. Areas in Bradford are not at all British and the closest town, Keighley, was recently voted the most divided in the UK. People have seen their communities transform beyond recognition over the last 20 years and have not been allowed to talk about it. As recently as 2013 I remember debates on the BBC asking if it’s racist to talk about immigration. Once it became acceptable to talk about it, immigration became the number one issue and the discussion was taken over by the zealous. People are giving into their anger and their analysis goes little beyond reading Daily Mail headlines. People love to tell me the vote wasn’t about ejecting me, just the other people.

Desmond FitzGerald, London: ‘It’s like someone having a mid-life crisis in their marriage’

I couldn’t care less whether there is a border in Ireland and there is no such thing as a special relationship. Pandering to such delusions is ridiculous. The UK is our closest most similar neighbour so it’s good for all of us to get on well and respect each other. Brexit means the UK leaving the EU and the single market, so better to deal with the consequences than try catch a cloud. Then when it goes wrong - as it will - Ireland should be the first to lead the effort to get the UK back into the EU and never once say “told you so” but just be glad to see our neighbour and friend back. It’s like someone having a mid-life crisis in their marriage. Sometimes you have to let them make a mistake for them to realise what they are risking.

Peter Coghlan, Dorset: ‘We Irish are being accused of interfering’

The intellectual level of debate in the media has been abominably low. Now we Irish are being accused of interfering in “our” (UK) negotiations; threatening future prosperity; and putting barriers in the way of trade discussions. Now that reality bites, both Leave-supporting politicians and their pliant media outlets are looking for scapegoats and the Irish are in the firing line.

Leavers and Remainers are as divided now as they were before the referendum and the conversations range from impotent anger (Leavers) over why the UK government can’t just walk away, pay nothing towards their commitments, send EU citizens home and let Ireland sort out their own issues; to impotent anger (Remainers) who despair at the government’s incompetence; the ridiculous grandstanding by the Brexiteers and their unwillingness to grasp or even understand what they are dealing with.

Above all the Leavers have failed to appreciate the amount of ill will and chaos they have created among their European partners, and even their own population. Most friends and acquaintances voted to Remain, though I do know a few who voted Leave, to the frustration of their children and friends. Ridiculously, we now have to be mindful of the views of those we with whom we socialise and try to ensure conversation avoids politics completely.

Having lived in the UK for 44 years I have become somewhat concerned for our future here. Already voter registration forms have been changed to include questions around country of birth and nationality. Unencumbered by a written constitution, UK residents are subject to the whims of the government of the day and as we have seen from the Brexit negotiations and the fluidity of thought around the rights of EU citizens, the future status of Irish citizens living in Britain becomes a little less certain.

Chris Jameson, London: ‘I worry about the special relationship’

Chris Jameson: ‘I do worry that when Theresa May inevitably goes that her successor will be even more extreme with regards to controlling immigration.’

There seems to be two schools of thought among my British friends and colleagues on the Irish Government's stance this week. First, that it is looking for a sensible policy to make the north/south trading relationship as smooth as possible. The other opinion is that the Irish Government is trying to be opportunistic and stick it to the UK for their own advantage. I have spent a lot of time explaining that we are just being pragmatic.

I worry about the special relationship as the Tory party are very unstable, and that when Theresa May inevitably goes, her successor may be even more extreme with regards to controlling immigration, the worst case scenario being the axing of reciprocal rights between Ireland and the UK. I think this is unlikely though, and maintain some optimism about the direction the UK is taking. For all of the Tories bluster and grandstanding, I think that they will come to the conclusion that a cooperative relationship with Europe is in everybody’s best interests.

Helen Farrelly, London: ‘I hope the Government will defend the rights of Irish residents’

British people tend not to be very aware of the complexities around Brexit. I keep in daily touch with the Irish media and Ireland seems more clued in to the political realities facing Britain, and things that Irish journalists predicted months ago - such as Ireland’s veto - are only now dawning here and not yet understood.

The alignment of the DUP with Brexiteers is worrying, but not surprising. Neither group has the national economic interest as their guiding principle - both seem more concerned with UK sovereignty and self-determination. I hope the Irish Government will defend the rights of Irish residents in the UK, but I haven't heard them come out about this. While we may not have to apply for settled status as other EU citizens will, it is worrying that there is no legal protection - as far as I understand it - for the Irish to retain rights they currently enjoy, such as access to the NHS, jobs and benefits. A right wing, post-Brexit government could make the landscape for Irish in Britain uncomfortable.

James Mahon: ‘The view among many in the Irish community here and those of us in media is that there seems to be no real leadership or direction from London.’

Dan Barry, London: ‘Britain knows very little and cares even less about Northern Ireland’

There are two strands to discussions about Brexit between British people and Irish people. First, it is clear the Irish are considered to be a distinct type of immigrant whose rights are not particularly impacted by Brexit. The British public seems unaware that many of our rights are tied to the EU. The Irish pragmatically (or foolishly) take the view that we will be last “up against the wall”.

Second, helping the British learn about Northern Irish politics (and the DUP in particular) has been eye opening. Britain knows very little and cares even less about Northern Ireland. Explaining the DUP has resulted in some genuinely flabbergasted reactions. They are unaware of the fundamentalism in Northern Irish politics (from all sides).

Paul Hunt, West Sussex: ‘Ignorance about Irish concerns is understandable’

Most British people are getting fed up with Brexit. They just want the politicians to get on with. The ignorance about Irish concerns is perfectly understandable. Many treat the Irish in Britain with either amusement or contempt. But the ignorance about the EU is frightening. It reflects the lies they’ve been told over 40 years by their media and politicians and contributed hugely to the Brexit vote. We’ll all pay dearly for their education.

Jeremy Staunton, London: ‘Anti-EU attitude is hardening’

The debate, in person and online, has almost fallen silent. Friends in the City of London continue to plan for a no-deal Brexit. Remainers are starting to feel vindicated but this is not matched among my Leave-voting friends who still don’t believe they have made a mistake. At most, they believe a good idea is being spoiled by bad implementation, deliberately or negligently. Their anti-EU attitude is hardening. But the vast majority of people I know are just bored, of Brexit and of me banging on about it.

Niall Lynch, Manchester: ‘They believe the UK is a far superior organisation’

Most of my colleagues are horrified by Brexit but many in our organisation and outside it approve. They genuinely believe the EU is a corrupt money grabbing organisation responsible for immigrants taking their jobs and housing. I was a passenger in a traffic jam when the driver blamed the congestion on the immigrants. They cannot see any downside to Brexit, even when challenged. They really believe the UK is a far superior organisation to the EU and do not see any possible benefit from membership.

Catherine Kavanagh, London: ‘There is a deep sense of shame’

Since June 2016, the people around me at work and in my social life are increasingly baffled, upset, deeply worried and frustrated. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve received apologies and assurances. There is a deep sense of shame and embarrassment here. There is also a sick feeling of dread for the future, and disappointment in a lacklustre and ineffective political opposition movement. We worry for the future of our industry, our children and our careers. We’re all in stasis. The British citizens in the mix are looking enviously at those of us with the harp on our passports.