The Irish in Britain who back Brexit: ‘In my circle, everyone voted Leave’
These Irish Leave supporters want the UK to ‘take back control’ and reform immigration
Mark Malone: ‘The winners of globalisation are people who don’t have to show their passport to go skiing...For the well-to-do areas, they have literally nothing to lose. This is not true for the truck driver’
Mark Malone (40), originally from Tipperary but now based in Southampton, was attracted by the “Take Back Control” slogan in the run-up to the Brexit vote.
He remains a strong supporter of the decision taken by the British electorate three years ago to vote for the United Kingdom to quit the European Union. His backing for Brexit puts him in the minority of the Irish community in Britain, but he is far from being the only one.
“I believe in democracy, and I don’t believe Europe is democratic. It’s not just the fact they are unelected, it is the broader feeling about a lack of control.”
'Jacob Rees-Mogg really believes in what he is saying and he respects the working man. He is far more in touch because of his honesty'
Working in a sailing business, Malone highlights immigration as a concern but draws a difference between the experiences of recent times and when Irish people moved to Britain for work in the past.
“I do believe in a decent asylum policy, but you would ensure it’s sustainable and that you have public goodwill towards it,” he says. “There was mass Irish immigration but there is a hell of a difference, culturally, between the Irish...and someone coming from a war-torn country.”
His thoughts can too often “offend dinner-party sentiment”, he accepts.
“Everybody is ‘hashtag’ outraged these days. But it’s this middle-class morality that is completely hypocritical and deeply disingenuous. The winners of globalisation are people who don’t have to show their passport to go skiing and for whom the nanny and the gardener are cheaper. For the well-to-do areas, they have literally nothing to lose. This is not true for the truck driver.”
Malone believes that hard-line Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks much more to the heart of the working-class electorate than anyone in Britain’s Labour party. “He really believes in what he is saying and he respects the working man. He is far more in touch – and I get the irony – because of his honesty.”
Meanwhile, Malone is deeply critical of Ireland’s position within Europe. “It goes back to our own fundamental insecurities in our ability to run our affairs. Nobody flies flags as much as the Irish, but it’s all tokenism. We couldn’t even make it 60 years as an independent country.
“When I speak about this in Ireland they think I’m a total psycho but I think you only get to know your own country when you live outside it.”
‘A Eurocratic behemoth’
For Sheila Bailey, born in Dundalk, the last two years of back-and-forth negotiations between Brussels and London has merely strengthened her view that she was right to vote Leave.
“It has reinforced my view that this is a cartel keeping themselves in positions of power. I also find that they have to fight very hard to keep the EU as they see it because they don’t want it to be easy for people to leave...without a doubt the UK is not the only country that wants out of the EU so they have to make it as difficult as possible,” she told The Irish Times.
Bailey is a prominent member of the Irish community in London, through her work with the Ireland Fund of Great Britain and a number of charities.
Educated at St Vincent’s Convent in the county town of Co Louth, she has spent the last 38 years in London. She was 18 when she left Dundalk.
“I have watched what started out as the common market turn into a great Eurocratic behemoth. It grows and it grows and it doesn’t seem to deliver on a level anything for real people. It was a political experiment…but it is out of control,” she says.
Bailey is not concerned about the possibility of no deal, saying that this is when the negotiations would start properly. “Things can be done very quickly if there is a need to do them. At the moment it is all about threat, positioning and grandstanding.”
'Politics is the art of the possible and I have no doubt that when all of the threats are over, everyone will negotiate their way through this... It has to happen'
Dismissing the possibility of an economic downturn, Bailey made the comparison with the Y2K bug scare in the run-up to the year 2000.
The UK’s economic fortunes have ebbed and flowed during its days as an EU member, so life outside promises nothing different, she insists.
“Politics is the art of the possible and I have no doubt that when all of the threats are over, or at least we are not getting the threats on a daily basis, everyone will negotiate their way through this with a system that works because that is what always happens. It has to happen. It may take longer than it should have done but I do believe that it will happen.”
While “Leavers” like Bailey and Malone are by no means solitary individuals within the Irish community, they are eclipsed by the much larger group that favours staying in the union. Reasons for wanting Britain to leave the EU can extend from concerns about sovereignty or immigration to scepticism about the role of Brussels in their lives.
The 2016 referendum was the first time Declan Kelly, a basement contractor, ever voted in the UK since he moved there in 2003. He voted to Leave.
“I felt very strongly. Europe is out of control,” says the Roscommon native, who wants to see tighter immigration controls, arguing that it has become “hip” for “champagne socialists to enjoy the activity of welcoming asylum seekers”.
“I think it makes someone feel good about themselves. The people who push this [immigration] come from a more affluent part of society; it’s not the people trying to make ends meet. When you’re talking to people in my circle [construction], everyone voted Leave.”
The next step, he says, is for Ireland to leave the EU. “Ireland has no choice,” Kelly says. “I don’t understand it – you spend 800 years trying to gain independence and within 60 years sign up to another imperial power.”
‘Playing for time’
After two years of negotiations, Laura Perrins now wants the UK’s departure settled once and for all. The prominent Brexiteer is co-editor of The Conservative Woman and is frequently on television. She has called for a smaller state, opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and criticises British prime minister Theresa May’s leadership. However, there remains the chance that Brexit may still not happen, she says.
“There is a chance in the current situation [that Britain won’t leave] because everything is so uncertain and she is such a bad leader. If you are a ‘Remainer’, all you have to do is keep playing for time so there is certainly a chance of that happening. If they managed to drag it onto 2020, then you are into ‘it was four years ago it is too long ago now’. Playing for time is the one thing that is working quite well.”
Unlike some on the right, Perrins is not critical of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s role in the negotiations. “He is protecting Irish interests, you can’t expect him to do anything else. I don’t know why British politicians expect him to do anything he has not done.”