Graham Norton shares his views on Brexit with honesty and humour

Graham Norton shares his views on Brexit with honesty and humour
Graham Norton with Thomas Hart and Paul McDonnell during the Ahakista August Festival in West Cork. Picture: Alison Miles

Norton is an Irishman, but he is also one of the best-known faces in Britain, where he lives. It would be interesting to hear his take on Brexit. He delivered it with his usual frankness and humour, says Alison O'Connor.

An evening with Graham Norton is never an event to be passed up. I had one just a few weeks ago at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry where he was interviewed before an audience.

Norton never disappoints. Despite the years of fame and adulation he appears in person not only to be immensely funny, but an exceptionally grounded human being.

Another point of admiration is how much he rows in when he’s at his holiday house in Ahakista in terms of involvement in the local community, most notably charity fundraisers.

Friends attended the annual quiz night in Ahakista last Friday night. They had an absolute ball, not just impressed with how well he executed his role as MC, but the seriously long night he put in while doing so.

At the literary event in Bantry last month, he was interviewed by Sunday Business Post journalist Nadine O’Regan. The evening was a joy.

He does have skin in the game here, in that it is a literary festival and he’s plugging his latest book, A Keeper. I liked it, although maybe not as much as his first, Holding. He did a reading from the book, but his writing was just one of a number of things up for discussion.

One of those topics was Brexit. Norton is an Irishman, but he is also one of the best-known faces in Britain, where he lives. It would be interesting to hear his take. He delivered it with his usual frankness and humour.

A revolution has occurred in the UK, he told the audience, but it didn’t come from the right and it didn’t come from the left, instead “it came from the stupid”.

He spoke of how he tells people who voted for Brexit that they needed to “look at their victory parade”, to watch who was “dancing the hardest and shouting the loudest”.

These people, he said more bluntly, had “hitched their wagon to a moron”. This was just a few days prior to Boris Johnson taking office as prime minister.

Given that the UK is where he is employed, and things he says are highly quotable, this could have been construed as risky territory.

Earlier in the evening, there had been discussion of how, these days, a single line, reported and spread on social media, could now break a career in a matter of hours.

At that point, Norton said he was grateful that this had not been the case in his younger days, and that he while he loved his job, his career was now long-established. In classic Norton fashion, he acknowledged the frankness of his remarks and possible repercussions, reminding us how he had already mentioned his career was well beyond the spring chicken stage.

Well as I said earlier I’m at this end of my career.

Cue more laughter from the audience.

We can only imagine how such talk would go down with those who are foaming at the mouth at what they see as the efforts by the Government — chiefly, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney — at handling the decision by the UK to leave the EU, or indeed that we should be bending on the backstop. Leo Varadkar is being accused of intransigence and single mindedness.

But to my mind the pair are right on course in the approach. With Boris Johnson, it is questionable whether you would give him over 5 cent to take care of, let alone concessions on a crucial issue such as this.

The current situation is extraordinarily fluid, and utterly impossible to predict. Nothing can be ruled out in terms of what might happen next week, next month, or beyond. It would be serious eejitry to be seen to waver now.

We have a Fine Gael party on the back foot domestically so, yes, the outcome of Brexit, and how it is handled, is now a very important factor for that party leading into a general election.

But rather than decry that extra dollop of political self-interest, we might see it as an additional insurance policy in terms of our side wishing to get it right.

The ground has shifted immensely with Johnson in office. There is his cabinet of arch Brexiteers.

Then we have his stark insistence on removal of what he repeatedly terms the “undemocratic backstop” from the withdrawal agreement to enable a Brexit deal, rather than just modification. He has said he will take the UK out of the EU without a deal on October 31 if this is not done.

Graham Norton shares his views on Brexit with honesty and humour

For starters, this raises an interesting prospect of our Government doing for Johnson, something they would not do for his predecessor Theresa May.

We have been involved in three years of intense diplomacy with the EU, building up the principle of regulatory alignment while trying to come up with an alternative to the backstop. None was found.

What might our EU colleagues think of us turning round now and changing our approach?

If Mr Johnson wants the backstop gone, then it is for him to come up with a credible solution, where others have been unable to do so. Let him spell out the alternative.

If only it was the backstop alone. Sure it is very significant, but it has also been a very convenient symbolic hook on which Brexiteers have hung all discontent and anger.

For us to show vulnerability at this point would be amateur night vulnerability. We would find ourselves in the maw of the frightening, unpredictable and voracious beast that is British politics at the moment.

We’d be looking at a mauling rather than any gratitude.

It was good to see Paschal Donohoe, the finance minister, in London this week to meet one of Johnson’s leading cabinet members. The increasingly likely no-deal scenario means we will be looking at a new era in terms of Irish/UK relations. In that event, we face an appalling period of recrimination, blame and anger.

For all that will have gone on, we will still need to be on talking terms with our nearest neighbours. It may seem counterintuitive — on the one hand, to be maintaining a spine of steel on the backstop, while on the other putting out the hand of cordiality for dealing with a post-crash out situation. But these are the political times that we live in.

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