Miriam Lord: Brexit result unites strange bedfellows

All quiet on Leinster House front until link made between Brexit and Irish Water

Putting on brave faces: Three Remain supporters at a referendum results party at a pub in north London. Photograph: Andrew Testa/The New York Times

Putting on brave faces: Three Remain supporters at a referendum results party at a pub in north London. Photograph: Andrew Testa/The New York Times

 

As governments reeled and financial markets plunged, there were smiles from both sides of the political tracks and on both sides of the Irish Sea.

In marked contrast, an unusually subdued Enda Kenny appeared like a man who had been lashed to those same tracks while the unstoppable Brexit express steamed over him.

The Taoiseach sounded exhausted at his gloomy post-referendum press conference. It turned out he hadn’t been to bed, having stayed up all night to watch the dramatic television coverage.

The disappointment was written all over his face.

But others were very happy. In Britain, the public school and pink gin brigade toasted the sundering of the UK from the EU after an impetuous prime minister’s power game with them went wrong.

And in Ireland, their ideological opposites seemed more than pleased with the results too.

Of course, there had to be a water connection. While the mood around a very quiet Leinster House yesterday was overwhelmingly downbeat, cheerful members of the People Before Profit-Anti-Austerity Alliance basked in a “we-told-you-so” moment of vindication in the Dáil chamber.

Arrogance

Richard Boyd BarrettEuropean Union

The Government’s “arrogance and contempt for democracy” in its approach to water charges is “the same arrogance and contempt for democracy that produced the vote to exit in the United Kingdom”.

“You’re stretching it,” said Minister for Housing Simon Coveney.

“No, I’m not.”

Richard’s colleague Mick Barry wasn’t surprised either. Members of the “ruling elite” such as Coveney have long underestimated the anger of the people over water charges and broader questions. Ordinary people wanted change, said Mick, and the outcome of the Brexit referendum underlined this.

“We are a democratically elected Government, not a ruling elite,” bridled the patrician Coveney.

And you all thought Brexit wouldn’t happen, countered the Cork socialist. All the Government people he spoke to told him that Remain would win. Barry wondered who Coveney had consulted to reach this conclusion.

“Did he go down the bookies and spend time with men who can’t find steady work and who hang out there to find some company and take their minds off the reality of life? Did he go to the shopping centre and talk to the single mother who is trying to raise her children in a tough estate on her earnings from a part-time job? Or did he talk to people like himself, namely, journalists, politicians, civil servants and other people who live and move in his circles?”

He didn’t need to give the House an answer.

“This is the connection with water charges,” declared Barry.

Ironically, those people who struggle to make ends meet may have voted themselves into far worse circumstances just to meet the selfish career ends of two privileged men. Dave and Boris and their Bullingdon bunfight, renewing old student rivalries from their exclusive Oxford dining club with potentially catastrophic results for Britain.

It’s already cost David Cameron his job. He will be leaving Downing Street in a few months.

The calculatingly Blimpish Boris Johnson, who has long coveted his job, is hot favourite to succeed him. Boris, who once supported staying in the EU, cynically toured the country with tales of Eurocrat excesses and outlandish claims about sovereignty-sapping rules and regulation.

When the voters bought Brexit, Boris was heroically giving Britain back to the British. Wait until they get the bill for his work.

And another hefty one is going to land on Ireland’s mat. Actually, that’s what Kenny looked like when he entered the press room in Government Buildings: collateral damage.

But then, in the very early hours of Friday, when the first two declarations came, there were surely only a few viewers who didn’t feel a stomach-flip of fear when that graph flashed up showing the almost instantaneous plunge of the pound.

But every cloud has a silver lining. On the way to Leinster House, passing the International Financial Services Centre, we wondered if the bunting was up yet and when the champagne corks might start popping.

Former Fianna Fáil minister for Europe Dick Roche was in the building when we arrived. He said he couldn’t believe the result. It came as a huge surprise.

But he wasn’t in Kildare Street to advise Micheál Martin, who held a press briefing to say Fianna Fáil would never back Ireland leaving the EU and called for a calm response from the Government to the Brexit decision. He was in the building to show an American visitor around.

Nonplussed

Cameron

“I get the sense that he almost stumbled into the referendum after the British general election . . . the preparation wasn’t there.”

In Government Buildings, the mood was very strange. The journalists sounded as shocked as the handlers watching on. Most of us – just like Mick Barry’s “ruling elite” confidants – thought that Brexit would be rejected by the English and the Welsh. That didn’t happen.

The Taoiseach stood alone on the platform, three Tricolours and three EU flags in the background. He outlined what steps his Government would take in the weeks and months to come, and said details of a contingency plan would be released.

He had warm words for Cameron, with whom he worked “in a time of unprecedented warmth in relations between our two countries”. He didn’t know when the new prime minister might trigger the process to begin British withdrawal but “we must take this breathing space and use it wisely.”.

He didn’t stay too long. “I have a number of contacts to make now with different leaders,” said Enda. “And I am expecting a telephone call from Prime Minister Cameron in 10 to 12 minutes.”

Soon afterwards, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald gave a press conference.

“So here we are, the day after the night before,” she began, before showing how it is always possible to get some return from a crisis.

Border poll

“It is not democratically acceptable that the North of Ireland would be taken outside the European Union against its will,” she said. “The majority of people have voted to stay in. It is therefore democratically imperative that those wishes are respected.”

Not only is Ireland partitioned, “but we now find ourselves with an Ireland that’s at once inside and outside the European Union”.

Would a Border poll pass? She was asked twice and responded with two, almost two-minute long replies, neither of them answering that question.

What her party wants is to see British involvement finished in Northern Ireland: “the true Brexit that needs to happen from Ireland.”

The Dáil is being recalled on Monday to discuss the crisis.

Meanwhile, it was noted that Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have a number of things in common, not least their blond hair.

Perhaps Enda might consider going brunette.