Tuesday, April 23, 2019


This is a fine piece by Lyra McKee from 2016. It is a reminder of the importance of the voice we have lost. She wrote about suicides amongst …
… the generation nicknamed the Ceasefire Babies—those of us too young to remember the worst of the terror. We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, spared from the horrors of war. But still, the after effects of those horrors seemed to follow us.
It’s a theme picked up by Sinéad O’Shea in her tribute to McKee and in writing on her own film about dissident paramilitaries.
A post-conflict society is messy. There are no winners. Everyone has lost. It’s nuanced and precarious and doesn’t work well for news headlines or political soundbites. However, this is exactly where Northern Ireland has found itself in recent times, in a row between politicians, the stumbling block to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and the UK’s departure from the EU. As local councillor and another of the film’s participants, Darren O’Reilly, told me: “Nobody is paying attention until it suits them.”

It seems also as if the increased scrutiny over the backstop has energised the dissident Republican community and served as a recruitment tool. Since the start of February, dissident Republicans have shot four men “by appointment”. They claimed responsibility last month for three “suspicious” devices sent to UK addresses. Now the tragedy of McKee’s killing.
Wars don’t just end. There are long and lingering effects. The utter complacency of Brexiters on the few occasions that they thought about Northern Ireland was based on an assumption that peace was a permanent fixed state, brought about by the Belfast Agreement, not that it was a fragile settlement, the beginning of a long process of de-escalation and reconciliation.


It was my generation that voted for Brexit. And Leave voters keep harping on about the Second World War. They are mocked. They never knew war, so they must have got their information from the movies. This is unfair and untrue. The effects of war were all around us when we grew up. We were surrounded by those who had fought, who had lost people they loved, who had seen things that people shouldn’t have done. The war was there in the stories and the silences. It was in the bravado, the hatreds, and the memories. It was there in the moments of distress, when something triggered a loss of control. And we, the post-war baby boomers, saw it all.

It was worse still for Germans, who had to come to terms with the Nazi past of their country. Their revulsion turned a small section of West Germans to terrorism, their own generation’s attempt to resist Nazism in the way their parents hadn’t. But then, their violence was based on as an absurd misreading of their own society as the Brexiters’ misunderstanding of the European Union.

Think too of the countries emerging from the collapse of Communism. Our war ended in 1945, their nightmare only ended in 1989. We shouldn’t be surprised by the revival of authoritarianism in the East. Thirty years is no time at all for a society to recover.


I’m in Greece now. On the bus from Thessaloniki airport through the city centre, I sat and listened to an excited young Greek woman speaking in English to her Spanish boyfriend, pointing out all the landmarks of her home city. A young Dutch family got on, and then as we passed the University, students of many different nationalities piled on. This is Europe. Europe as it should be. Diverse and shared.

Yet Greeks too have only recently emerged from their own national catastrophe – Nazi occupation, a bloody fratricidal civil war, and a military dictatorship that only ended in 1974. It still echoes through Greek society and politics, especially in the wake of the Euro crisis. Still, this is a pro-European country. Most think that we are mad to leave.


It takes time. I am one of those of my generation who responded by becoming ardently pro-European and never ever questioned our place in the European Union. Others did not. Nationalism and isolationism offered an escape from the recent past into a fantasy world of nostalgic heroism. After all, it was the world that surrounded us when we were children.

Young people don’t think like this. They are two generations removed from the war. They are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping our EU membership – some 70-80% wanting to remain if the polls are right. They are comfortable travelling on a multi-national bus. Europe is their natural environment, their hope, their birthright, and their future. They feel that my generation has stolen it from them. They hate us for it.

It’s the young who give me hope. They are the ones who will lead us back into the EU if we make the mistake of leaving. And they are the ones on the frontline against the new European authoritarianism.


It isn’t all about time and generational change. Peace is not therapy. Instead, we cannot recover unless we build institutions that allow that recovery to take place. This is the underlying importance of the European Union. It established a democratic framework for post-war renewal and development. It is the settlement that allows nations emerging from their Stalinist or fascist pasts to establish their democracies. It is what was built to overcome the trauma of Europe’s terrible twentieth century. It matters and it has worked.

Brexit is a terrible mistake. Revoke article fifty and remain. Do it now.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Project reality

The Irish Taoiseach warned about this before the referendum, only to be routinely dismissed as another exponent of "project fear" - a supposedly hysterical over-reaction to scare the voters. Well this is how it ends, with a young, talented woman shot dead.

The threat to the peace process in Northern Ireland has been scoffed at by Brexiters, called 'artificially manufactured,' while they have suggested a range of fictitious 'solutions' to the border question, using technology that hasn't been invented yet or throwing responsibility back on to the Irish government or the EU. 'Nothing to do with us - if you don't want a border don't have one.' The idiocy of it is beyond belief. Only it isn't.

Farage, Johnson, Galloway, Rees-Mogg, and all the rest of the wankers, are either ignorant of Irish history or treat Ireland with imperial disdain. They wish away all and any realities that have the temerity to get in the way of their stupid obsessions. The single market made leaving the EU economically damaging if not impossible. The Good Friday agreement made it politically imposible. This was ignored, despite the voices shouting as loud as they could.

The peace process was in difficulties anyway, with Stormont deadlocked, but throwing in the decision to allow English voters to pull Northern Ireland out of the EU, despite it voting by a large majority to remain, was hardly going to help. To then turn to the only Northern Irish political party to oppose the Good Friday Agreement to prop up a minority government implementing Brexit was utterly crass.

All the talk has been about a frictionless border, but this is not the only issue. The genius of the EU as a peace project is that it has blurred nationalism. It left national identity untouched, but added a secondary one - EU citizenship - to unite people as European. Brexit will strip that citizenship away and the two countries will revert to separate identities, once again polarising communal divisions.

And now people are dying. I just hope and pray that this isn't the start of another outbreak of a long, cruel civil war. Fuck Brexit and its reckless cheerleaders, fuck the charlatans and liars who have brought us to this, fuck the vandals and vultures waiting to pick the profits from the carcass of our lives. Stop it. Revoke article fifty. End this idiocy. Let's take our place in the European Union in peace and solidarity with the people of Ireland, both North and South, and share the larger European peace that populist nationalists are doing their best to destroy.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019


Whatever occurs this week, Brexit has failed. It might still happen, but it will be an exercise in failure. It has failed because it is completely unable to deliver what its supporters claimed it would. Sovereignty will be diminished as we will be weakened and subject to the demands of the three economic superpowers, the most important being the one that we have left. Our global influence will be reduced as most of it sprang from our membership of the EU. Our economy will decline, there is no model of Brexit which will not hurt. And even the fantasy of the disintegration of the EU is shown to be just that as the EU unites to defend one of its smaller members, Ireland, against the threat that Brexit poses to it. The EU has shown itself to be coherent and far more powerful than the UK in protecting the core interests of all its members. The damage that has already been done is considerable.

The worst consequence has been the emergence of an English nationalist movement on the left and right. Lexiters should remember that the attempt to combine nationalism and socialism does not have a happy history. Bob from Brockley gives them a splendid put-down here. The right combine delusional thinking with atavistic hatred and have licensed people to express the sort of views that had been buried for a decade or more.

There are two possible Brexiter responses to this tragedy. They can double down on the fantasies, cry 'democracy' (while seeing it as a single event, never to be repeated), accuse others of treason for disagreeing with them, or develop ever more arcane theories as to why everything will be fine, all the while indulging in their fantasies about the imperial or neo-liberal oppression those pesky Europeans are subjecting us to. The second is to face reality. This is far rarer. One example is the dismal Peter Oborne accepting that one strand of his thirty years of bollocks (including vile and conspiracist Assad apologias) is in fact bollocks. Or like this Twitter lament supporting an EFTA Brexit and denouncing the hard-liners. While from the government, Geoffrey Cox realised something that was obvious from the beginning, but was dismissed as "project fear" whenever it was raised.
I just feel we have under-estimated its complexity. We are unpicking 45 years of in-depth integration. This needed to be done with very great care, in a phased and graduated way. It needs a hard-headed understanding of realities.
A brief glimpse of sanity amongst an ocean of deranged, hyperbolic failure.

Most reports see May's obsession with immigration at the heart of her continual denial of reality. Yet Labour shares it. They have repeated their commitment to ending freedom of movement. This is sold as an anti-immigration stance. It's completely misleading. There are two implications to it. The first is that this means leaving the single market and all its benefits, despite the weasel words about full access. A customs union is inadequate. It does not secure frictionless trade. It does not solve the Irish border issue. And it ignores services, some 80% of our trade. At the time of the referendum, leaving the single market was described as a 'hard Brexit.' I think that's a fair description. Labour is now advocating a hard Brexit while pretending that it's soft.

Secondly, Labour now proudly declares that it stands for stripping a fundamental right from all UK citizens. It takes away our freedom of movement, though they only talk about doing it to others. It shrinks our life chances. And it does so while talking about 'traditional voters' and the 'white working class.' That isn't a socialist class analysis. It's identity politics, not class politics. Socialism is about the interests that unite, not the identities that divide.

Nobody is critical of the effects of migration of northerners to London, Londoners to the north, the English to Scottish universities or Scots to English jobs. Few talk about the effects of young people leaving for a better life elsewhere or of the elderly retiring to small rural communities. No, what they want to stop are foreigners. Except they won't. Instead they want to stop Europeans coming, while frantically searching for people from other countries to replace them.

Cox's "45 years of in-depth integration" is about more than economics. It's about people. People who have worked and studied abroad. People who have retired and escaped the British climate. People who have made friends and built new, multi-national families. It's about their children and their birthright. It's even a staple of British popular culture, from Auf Wiedersehen Pet to Benidorm. Labour and the Conservatives are proudly announcing that they are going to take all that away from us and expect us to be grateful. It's mean-minded stupidity.

People's lives are going to be damaged, jobs will be lost, families faced with impossible choices, and xenophobia legitimised - for what? For something that will fail. The only way a policy that flawed could be adopted is if the normal processes of scrutiny, deliberation, and representation are by-passed. That's why the Brexiters demanded a referendum. It was their only chance because, as Otto English puts it,
Requiring the British public to vote in a binary referendum on a matter as complex as EU membership, was akin to asking a three year old to perform brain surgery with a stick of novelty cheese.
Don't blame the voters. Neither remainers or leavers knew much about it. None of us were qualified or understood the functioning of EU institutions, nor did we know about the effectiveness of the single market. That meant we were open to persuasion and unable to judge lies from facts. The only ones who knew were the experts who we were told to distrust. Otto English again:
As the Brexit fuse burns to its cinder, what the UK needs more than ever, is a little more acceptance that many Britons are simply bewildered as to what the hell is going on. That doesn’t make them stupid – it makes them normal.
Like us, the political class is out of its depth in this self-inflicted crisis. There is only one thing to do - revoke, breathe a sigh of relief, and become normal again.