Arch-Brexiteer changes mind over ‘upset’ at dip in Anglo-Irish relations

Commentator says he had not fully understood the implications for the peace process

Peter Oborne said: “The Brexiteers, of whom I was one, made a series of statements during the Brexit referendum campaign two-and-a-half years ago which have subsequently turned out to be untrue.” Photograph: Getty Images

Peter Oborne said: “The Brexiteers, of whom I was one, made a series of statements during the Brexit referendum campaign two-and-a-half years ago which have subsequently turned out to be untrue.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

High-profile Brexiteer Peter Oborne has described as “very upsetting” the reverse in warming relations between Ireland and Britain since its divisive referendum to pull out of the European Union.

After announcing his retreat from trenchant Leavers, the influential commentator and author said he and other Eurosceptics had not fully understood the implications for the peace process and the Belfast Agreement.

“We had no excuse not to [understand],” he said.

Mr Oborne described the Belfast Agreement as “one of the wonderful things that happened in these islands”.

“I would put my hands up — I didn’t understand it well enough,” he said.

“I think one of the lessons is that you can embark on projects without knowing where they are going to end up. The law of unintended consequences - you start to pull out one piece of string and an awful lot of other pieces of string come out as well.”

Striking a contrite note, he said he and fellow Brexiteers also did not comprehend the “very tragic joint history” between Britain and Ireland, and “how relevant it has become to this European argument”.

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The commentator said his about turn came after “long heartfelt conversations” with friends in Ireland about its impact on the country and with relations with Britain.

“The way in which our relations have improved so much and we have become to much warmer in the last half century — to see that go in reverse is something which is very upsetting,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr Oborne also said the British people were sold a pup on the economic case for pulling out of the EU.

“The Brexiteers, of whom I was one, made a series of statements during the Brexit referendum campaign two-and-a-half years ago which have subsequently turned out to be untrue,” he said.

Citing the lack of promised trade deals, he added the rise of protectionism in the US and China means it is a “more menacing outlook”.

“The main economic argument [FOR BREXIT)]was a pup,” he said.

Mr Oborne said Britain now needs “that long pause just to get our heads right about this issue”.

“It may well lead to revocation, and certainly to a second referendum,” he said.

“Equally we need to work out a Brexit that really will work. It is very important that we retain our warm relations with Europe.”

Mr Oborne said he admired British prime minster Theresa May’s determination amid “endless humiliation”, but that she had reached a point where she was seeking something “unattainable”.

“There is a moment it becomes madness,” he said.

“The difference between determination and actually losing your mind is very, very slight.”