Britain doesn’t return our love — that’s why Brexit hurts

It’s not just the political upheaval and economic uncertainty, it’s the lingering fear that we weren’t good enough for the British, says Stephen Lynam.

Britain doesn’t return our love — that’s why Brexit hurts

It’s not just the political upheaval and economic uncertainty, it’s the lingering fear that we weren’t good enough for the British, says Stephen Lynam.

ACCORDING to Eurostat, the all-knowing European statistics agency, Ireland has a “crude divorce rate” of 0.6%.

This measures the number of divorced people in the State compared to the number of married people, and is the lowest in the EU.

The rate is highest in the Scandinavian countries — Denmark has a rate of 2.9% — with the UK near the top, at 1.9%. Conversely, we seem to love getting married, with a crude marriage rate amongst the highest in the Union, ahead of the UK, though lower than those Danes, who never seem to learn.

Our love of marriage, and reluctance to divorce, might explain how unsettling Brexit is in the Irish national psyche. Our angst is understandable.

Remain politicians in Ireland, the EU, and the UK warned that nobody would win from a Leave result, and were promptly ignored by 52% of British voters. The consequences will be rapid and severe: economies will suffer, prices will rise, jobs will be lost, and the peace process endangered. But Ireland’s collective angst in advance of March 29 runs deeper. For us, Brexit is not just a political and economic shock, but an emotional one.

Like Tammy Wynette, we wish we could stop this ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, because it “tears the heart right out” of us and we feel hurt and abandoned by a partner whom, despite our many problems, we had grown to love.

The pain of colonialism and partition, the trauma of the Civil War, and the horror of the Troubles, had begun to be replaced with a new relationship, built, we thought, on mutual respect and a shared future. We shared not just a border and a common history, but common cultural, social, and sporting interests. We welcomed British holiday makers in their droves, and we visited their great cities.

While we have always watched Premier League football and English TV shows, Sky Sports began showing GAA matches to UK audiences in 2014 and Irish faces are ubiquitous on British television. They gave us Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. We gave them Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Ireland, also, is enthusiastic about the EU. Cynics may say it was because of all those structural funds. Perhaps. But the EU makes us feel part of a family: respected, valued, and heard. We simply cannot believe our partner in that union — the UK — has decided to walk out on the institution that is so important to us.

Events in Westminster suggest that not only does Britain not love us back, it doesn’t understand or care about us. The “Irish border” is seen, at best, as a nuisance and, at worst, as an irrelevance that should not be taking up all this time in the Brexit debate.

One Conservative politician talked about using “food shortages” in Ireland as a bargaining chip. Labour, a party with a good understanding of most things Irish, scuppered Theresa May’s deal, which would have eased our pain, so that it could win the politics, if not the argument. If that doesn’t wound our green, green heart, I don’t know what could. All this generates not just confusion and anger, but a sense of loss.

So, as well as being perplexed, angry, and fearful about Brexit, we are sad about it. Many of us are friends with wonderful British people, yet the United Kingdom, collectively, is turning its back on us.

How could the country with whom we share, and have overcome, so much, walk out the door? Why, after all that has happened in these islands, could enough people vote to leave the EU, a prospect that they were told repeatedly would not only be damaging to themselves, but also to their closest neighbour?

There is another complicating factor. Brexit reignites our national inferiority complex, which we thought long since banished, and the inferiority complex of many throughout Europe who passionately believe in the EU project, but are reluctant to say so, lest they sound idealistic or preachy.

In asking the question, ‘what is so wrong with Britain, that it voted to leave the EU?’, we also, perhaps privately, ask ourselves, ‘what is so wrong with us?’

Like many abandoned lovers, we look to what we, or the EU, or the other Remainers, could have done differently to make Britain want to stay. Newspaper columns and radio discussions are peppered with references to the need to “reconnect with” and “address the disillusionment” of “ordinary British people” who chose to leave.

Such discussion misses the point that the UK chose to leave. We are the ones who have been left high and dry. And while Brexit will damage Britain irreparably, it damages us, too, and is of their making, not ours. It’s not us. It’s them. We should not blame ourselves.

Britain, as the film title goes, is just not that into us, as Irish people or as Europeans. That is heartbreaking, but it is a fact we must face. They are going their own way, and we are left to pick up the pieces, like an ex-lover alone in a big empty house.

We will get over this loss, but it will be painful and will take time. Until then, let us be mindful, as Ms Wynette put it, of “this hurt that’s drippin’ down our cheeks”.

- Stephen Lynam is a former special adviser to Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe

More in this section

Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up