Confusion, claim and counter-claim, deepening apprehension, fantasy, dishonesty, division and a darkening polarisation have come to define the saga — so far. An air of sinister threat was introduced when The Daily Mail asked its readers to identify, via a designated email address, university academics who argue against Brexit. That may not be quite the same as painting Achtung Juden! on the lecture-hall door but the move is straight out of the same intimidate-and-silence playbook.
The week’s first salvo was fired by London’s mayor Sadiq Khan who suggested that if the House of Commons rejected a finalised deal between the UK and the EU a second referendum might be necessary. London voted 60% to 40% to remain in the EU but Mr Khan’s suggestion was dismissed out of hand by the usual suspects. Adding more fuel to the blazing fire, former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul speaking in London, said Brexit is the “single stupidest thing any country has ever done,” — apart from the election of Donald Trump as America’s president.
There were equally strident denunciations from behind the red-white-and-blue curtain, especially from those described yesterday by AIB chairman Richard Pym as “headbanger” Brexiteers. Mr Pym, speaking in Dublin warned the State must prepare for a “car crash” if hardline Brexiteers succeed.
The decision to quit the EU was “quite extraordinary. I can assure you a lot of British businesses feel the same”, said Mr Pym, who had a long career at the top of British banking before he joined AIB. Speaking at the same event Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned Brexit was “a hugely challenging negotiation” made more so because UK politicians had misled the public “what has been promised ... is simply undeliverable, the realisation of that is dropping slowly.”
His sobering view was echoed by former European Commission secretary-general Catherine Day who said the UK would “eventually wake up to the fact that they have way less influence” ... and that it will be the EU that sets the terms of their departure. If that doesn’t happen, there will be no deal, she predicted. The message from keynote speaker, Pascal Lamy, a former WTO director general and a former EU trade commissioner, was equally chastening. The idea that there will be a frictionless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is “fairy-tale”, he said. “No border is simply impossible.” Talk about “frictionless, invisible borders with no infrastructure” was “fairy-tale poetry.”
This conference may have been populated by a particular view and was just a snapshot of a wider debate but it was chilling indication of how our world might change utterly. What a terrible Pandora’s box has been opened and for what? Apart from climate change it is hard to think of a greater challenge faced by this island since the Great Famine of 1845. It is hard to be optimistic but we must remain determinedly so.