Brexit and a second vote


Sir, – The turmoil of Brexit is considerable but not unexpected (“Back to you, Mrs May”, Editorial, April 12th; Letters, passim).

In 1929, Freud wrote that “life, as we find it, is too hard for us: it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks”. Brexit brings all three: pain without end, disappointment for both Leavers and Remainers, and impossible tasks aplenty, as MPs will readily testify.

Freud had three solutions: “powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of our misery; substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it; and intoxicating substances, which make us insensitive to it”. “Power deflections” such as satire served us well at the start of the Brexit saga, but now even the satirists are losing their edge. “Substitutive satisfactions” are difficult to find: Brexit now taints virtually every aspect of public life. And “intoxicating substances” do not offer a lasting solution. There are, in any case, no substances sufficiently intoxicating to dull this particular pain.

A path forward lies, perhaps, in meeting rhetoric with quietude, bombast with stoicism, and uncertainty with a focus on the realities of day-to-day life. This approach seems most likely to sustain us, both in Westminster and beyond, if it is underpinned by a belief, albeit sorely tested, that democracy is still the best way to work these things out.

This phlegmatic, contemplative approach is, perhaps, what Freud meant when he spoke of “the happiness of quietness” in Civilization and its Discontents. Almost a century later, the discontents are all too apparent; the civilisation sadly less so. – Yours, etc,


Department of Psychiatry,

Trinity College Dublin.

Sir, – In their contribution to the Brexit debate (Opinion, April 15th) Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, who as prime minister and taoiseach signed the Belfast Agreement in 1998, ask the question as to how much the vote for Brexit is “compatible with the Belfast Agreement”?

It can be argued that the answer to that question is that it is not compatible at all.

Brexit essentially tore up the Belfast Agreement that Blair signed on behalf of the UK and Ahern signed on behalf of this country and which is so historical that it drew a line under the colonial past.

That is why, in keeping the conditions defined in the agreement intact, the backstop is so important in the present negotiations. It is also a good part of the reason why Brexiteers want to get rid of the backstop.


Sutton, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern write that it’s “time to be brutally honest about the real choices” regarding Brexit “and the real consequences of those choices”, (“Why there must be a second Brexit referendum”, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, Opinion, April 14th).

It’s impossible to argue with such noble sentiments.

However, one wonders whether Brexit would ever have happened if the former British prime minister had heeded his own fine words in the run-up to the controversial 2003 Iraq war?

It’s widely acknowledged that the massive 2016 leave vote was as much an anguished howl from the British people against their political establishment as it was a rejection of the EU.

The deceit that underpinned the illegal attack on Iraq, and the revulsion it caused among the UK population when that dishonesty was later uncovered, must surely have contributed, even after 13 years, to so many ordinary people wanting to send a message of rejection to the political “elite”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, announced that a “flextension” until October 31st was agreed among the heads of EU member states thus allowing Great Britain six months to sort out Brexit.

I wonder if, in his wildest dreams, he meant a “flex tension” and hopes that very soon someone in the British Parliament will eventually pull the plug on Brexit.– Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.