‘My desire to be an Irish citizen was increased by Brexit’s follies’

Professor George L Huxley (86) has just become the oldest new citizen of Ireland

An 86-year-old English classics professor with strong ties to Irish universities has become an Irish citizen because he is “intensely upset about Brexit”.

George Leonard Huxley, a former professor of Greek at Queen's University Belfast and an honorary professor at Trinity College Dublin, was the oldest (by one year) of 3,000 people from more than 120 countries to be conferred with Irish citizenship at ceremonies in Killarney, Co Kerry, on Monday.

"I was determined to become rather more Irish if possible before Brexit inflicted itself on us. Certainly my desire to be an Irish citizen was greatly increased by the follies of Brexit," he told The Irish Times on a visit to Dublin on his way home to Oxfordshire.

Prof Huxley condemned the "utterly irresponsible" decision of former prime minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU to resolve problems within his own party.


'I hope that we will learn to have a civil society which is welcoming to foreigners, outward-looking but aware'

Equally irresponsible were his decisions not to lay down provisions for contrary votes in Northern Ireland and Scotland or applying a "defined" or super-majority rather than a simple majority for "so serious a constitutional change", he said.

“I question its legality. I am no international lawyer but when two nations in the UK vote Remain, their wishes cannot be ignored even if the larger part of the territory voted Leave,” he said.

He rejected the view of former British minister Jo Johnson, brother of former UK foreign secretary Boris, that the Brexit crisis was the worst failure of statesmanship since the 1956 Suez canal crisis, when Britain was forced to withdraw its troops from Egypt. The closest parallel goes back much further, he said.

“I would say that the total inability to compromise and the vituperation that one now sees – and the general incivility, which is alarming when you consider the pathetic performance of MPs – can only be paralleled with the 17th century and the time of the [English] civil war,” he said.

Devoted to Ireland

The octogenarian regularly visits Ireland to deliver lectures at NUI Maynooth as an adjunct chair of classics. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

“I am very fond of Ireland and the Irish. I am devoted to Ireland. I didn’t choose my ancestors very carefully. I have no Irish ancestry at all. I have long taken delight to living here,” he said.

Prof Huxley, now both Irish and English, plans to stop by a Garda station to pick up an Irish passport form before returning to England.

He hopes his newly conferred Irish citizenship won’t lose him friends at home, where he laments the inward-looking nationalism of Brexit.

“I hope that we will learn to have a civil society which is welcoming to foreigners, outward-looking but aware for historical reasons that we really are Europeans. We are moving into the great unknown and the social consequences could be very severe. They could be even disruptive,” he said.

Asked whether Brexit had precedent in the tragedies of the Greeks, Prof Huxley said an "old Latin tag" instead came to mind: Quem deus vult perdere, prius dementat – "the person whom God wants to destroy, he first makes mad".

“There is a curious madness about this, which is very, very alarming,” he said. “It is self-harm in the terms of woolly concepts of sovereignty.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times