Brexit and triumphalism


Sir, – In an article published in The Irish Times in October 2016, I anticipated that whatever date the UK government ultimately designated for Brexit, it might prove necessary for the two-year time-frame for exit prescribed by article 50 to be extended by agreement of the European Council. In a letter published by this paper in November 2017, I praised the Irish Government for placing our Border concerns “at the centre of the EU’s initial engagement with the UK”.

However, in doing so, I cautioned against wrongly creating the impression that the status quo on our island could be easily maintained and that it would be all right on the night.

In the context of the EU’s engagement with the UK on a withdrawal agreement, I stated the importance of ensuring that “we do not lose sight of the importance Northern unionists attach to their British identity and the impact of flags and symbols on our island”.

Somewhere along the route to the December 2017 announcement of the backstop that was either forgotten or ignored. So was the likely impact on many Northern unionists and, in particular, the DUP of the Taoiseach and others prematurely celebrating the UK’s initial agreement to the backstop, subject to everything else being agreed, by waiving the green flag of republican nationalism in search of Southern media and public applause and perceived electoral gain. As we view the political chaos in Westminster, it is only right to acknowledge that it has been partially stoked by our own Government’s tactics and December 2017 commentary.

Like the majority, both North and South, I regret the UK is departing from the EU, have no doubt that if it does so it would be damaging to both the UK and our State, and have a residual hope that the political chaos in Westminster will result in a new referendum that rules out Brexit. Where we are going should hopefully become clearer in the coming days. I remain concerned that exasperation and political miscalculation could result in a no-deal Brexit.

Should a third attempt to obtain a majority in the Commons for the withdrawal agreement be permitted by the Speaker of the House and should it be successful, there should be no repetition by the Irish Government of the triumphalism of December 2017 nor should there be if the UK government is forced into finally acknowledging the democratic need to hold the people’s vote for which over six million people have petitioned. We remain in uncharted waters and casual or indiscrete comment can produce damaging unintended consequences.

Whatever happens in the coming days when decisions are made, even if they are only to again postpone Brexit, urgent action will be required to repair relationships with the UK government, constructively engage with the DUP, and everything possible should be done to restore the Northern Ireland executive and get the Assembly up and running.

The most practical way of achieving that may be the holding of new elections in Northern Ireland to give Northern voters their say.

It is something to address with whoever is the UK’s prime minister. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

A chara, – Stephen Collins feels obliged to casually refer to the “appalling” Nigel Farage (“Letting UK hold another European election would be disastrous”, Opinion and Analysis, March 28th), presumably to demonstrate his own politically correct credentials.

Like it or not, Mr Farage is one of the most successful UK politicians of the last century. He started off with one apparently impossible goal: to get Britain out of the EU. Due to the first-past-the-post system, he never had MPs in any substantial number.

However, the performance in European elections, where the UK operates proportional representation and in which Ukip won the highest number of seats of any British party, sufficiently spooked then-prime minister David Cameron into promising a simple in/out referendum on EU membership in order to ward Mr Farage off. A bluff he never thought would be called.

It was called, and a vote for Brexit was passed. To describe Mr Farage as “appalling” is to completely disregard and underestimate the scale of what he has achieved.

Whatever you feel about Brexit, it is impossible to not have some grudging respect for the man. – Is mise,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – MPs on Wednesday voted on eight alternatives to Mrs May’s deal but none received a majority! I note that they subsequently approved a statutory instrument to change the date of Britain’s withdrawal from today, March 29th.

At least they agreed on something! – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Henry VIII’s split from Europe involved the rolling of heads other than his own. Theresa May, in contrast, is about to lose her own, if only in a manner of speaking.

Maybe she should have followed Henry’s precedent in looking for an annulment rather than a divorce. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – The difference between Russian roulette and Brexit bingo is that the former is played with five empty chambers and a single bullet while the latter is played with a full Chamber and several ballots. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Look on the bright side, UK. Your residents come out of the Brexit debacle knowing far more about what the EU does and how it works than they knew in 2016.

Hopefully it will be of use to them in the near-future. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.