As bad as it was that England and Wales voted to leave the UK, I mean the EU, on June 23rd the last two weeks has produced some fascinating commentary by both Irish and UK media; as well as some witty responses on social media. As has already been remarked upon by various commentators, the events following the vote for Brexit have been worthy of plotlines from political dramas like House of Cards and The Thick of It.
I woke on the morning of June 24th and turned on Newstalk radio to hear Chris and Ivan, (this was before Yates’ exit or #Yexit as it was called on Twitter), and heard them proclaim it as an ‘historic day’. I was certain I’d misheard when they said that the Leave vote had won out.
Only the previous evening I had spent time with some of my colleagues taking part in the 1916 Freedom bus tour where we refreshed our knowledge of Ireland’s shaky start on the road to self-governance and becoming a Republic. Brits out was the exclamation on the lips of the rebels and here I was waking up to hear the same thing again but this time the Brits wanted out of the EU. I was stunned.
Before I’d had my first cup of tea of the day, David Cameron had resigned without enacting Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This was a move which one canny Guardian commentator hypothesized had turned the bid for leadership of the Tory party into a poisoned chalice, for who among them, if elected as party leader, was prepared to trigger Article 50? (You can read the Independent newspaper article on that theory here).
Party leadership frontrunner (at the time) Boris Johnson gave a very subdued press conference after his ‘pyrrhic victory’ as the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff put it. But it was a ‘cuckoo’s nest’ plot best outlined in this excellent Telegraph article by Gordon Rayner, that became the undoing of Boris Johnson’s bid for leadership of the Tory party as well as crossing Michael Gove off the Johnson’s Christmas list for the foreseeable future.
Michael Gove’s chances of winning the leadership are also in doubt with commentators most using the adjective ‘treacherous’ to describe his recent Machiavellian manoeuvres. There is even a free ‘Slap Michael Gove’ game that you can play online, I’m not making this stuff up, the last time I checked he’s been (virtually) slapped over 2.8 million times…
Then, Nigel Farage resigned as the leader of UKIP. This is the man who jostled with Boris for the mantle of Britain’s most prominent Leave campaigner. To the derision of EU leaders and political commentators, he decided to spit the dummy once he got what he’d long been looking for – as this cartoon doing the rounds on social media perfectly sums up.
Both Boris and Farage unsurprisingly came in for criticism from the president of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker who said, “Those who have contributed to the situation in the UK have resigned – Johnson, Farage and others. They are as it were retro-nationalists, they are not patriots. Patriots don’t resign when things get difficult; they stay.” However as my old politics lecturer Brigid Laffin pointed out in her recent Irish Times article, the remaining member states should not seek to punish the UK. While it will need to be firm on what it will offer the UK, more important it must defend itself from those who would dance on its grave long before it is dead.
Meanwhile over in the Labour party, ‘Mr Landslide Victory 2015’, Jeremy Corbyn is making our once Teflon Taoiseach Bertie Ahern look like an oil slick. This man is not for leaving. Labour MPs mounted a campaign to remove the Labour leader after he sacked Hilary Benn as shadow foreign secretary following the EU referendum.
In the following week almost every shadow minister in Mr Corbyn’s top team resigned and a vote of no confidence in the leader won the support of over 80 per cent of MPs who voted.
So he’s not winning any popularity contests, but luckily for Jeremy his tenure depends on the support of the party membership. Labour MPs want to see Mr Corbyn step down without having to trigger a leadership campaign. However, Mr Corbyn and his allies have refused to back down and allow a new leader to be appointed, citing the mandate he won from Labour voters in September last year.
And let’s not forget the Donald in all of this. During the Brexit campaign there was a lot of dodgy claims made by the Leave camp and the parallels with Donald Trump’s presidency campaign in the US didn’t go unnoticed by media commentators like CNBC. So when the final results came in it was probably an omen to hear that Trump had arrived in Scotland and, to then add to the absurdity, he decided to tell his twitter followers:
Lots of Scots replied to point out to Mr Trump that Scotland had in fact voted to ‘Remain’ in the EU or as one tweeter put it rather colourfully: “Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe you toupéd f***trumpet.” For a roundup of the unique Scottish welcome that Donald received on his recent visit have a read of this article by Hillary Mantell at Buzzfeed.
Since the result there seems to have been an outbreak of #Regrexit going on if the number of articles about people regretting their decision to vote leave are to be believed, examples include Telegraph, Political Scrapbook and Independent.co.uk. And when you read comments in these articles like ‘I didn’t think my vote would count’, the ignorance is both mindboggling and a little depressing. Do they not understand how democracy works?
Meanwhile, in Ireland there is much consternation over recent events as everyone digests the potential fall out for Ireland. While it’s great to be able to sit back, and watch the likes of Jon Oliver’s take on things and read about all the political shenanigans across the water, I’m acutely aware there will be implications for us not least because of Ireland’s strong economic ties with Britain.
Being from Donegal, I can still remember well the countless trips in and out of Northern Ireland which required going over the ‘Camel’s hump’ in Strabane via the army checkpoint and being questioned by armed British soldiers in full combat gear. And then returning home with a stop at the Customs hut and a prayer that the fancy new stereo your Mammy was buying you for your birthday wouldn’t be found! I personally wouldn’t like to see a return to Border controls following Brexit.
So we’ll wait and see what the long term fallout is going to be for Ireland but looking at where we are now and how this result has come about, it has reaffirmed for me the importance of educating the public through a good, well executed public information campaign which is based on fact. It certainly failed to make an impact in this instance.
As President Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”