Brexit – going backwards with climate change deniers

The horrendous prospect of a minority Conservative government in Britain relying on the sectarian Democratic Unionists (DUP) in Northern Ireland to back a clumsy and contorted exit from the European Union and to remain in power despite having lost a misjudged general election has revived some memories of my exit from the dis-United Kingdom at the beginning of the 1980s. How can the Conservatives guide the people into a brighter future when they depend on support in parliament from a bunch of ”no-surrender”, anti-abortionist, climate change deniers whose fear of a united Ireland kept the green isle locked in misery for much of the 20th Century? The Good Friday agreement and the “farewell to arms” since the mid-1990s seem to be hanging in the balance as the Tory leader Ms. Mayhem continues blundering. Somebody needs to teach her about the ugliness and stupidity of fundamentalist sects, although judging from her performance during the last year there’s not much scope for deepening her understanding of any such issues. Her sound-bites have been something like: Let’s have a “hard” Brexit, by setting up barriers with our main trading partners – including the Republic of Ireland believe it or not – by sending Johnny foreigner back where he belongs and by assuming that Johnny consumer at the far end of the earth is eagerly awaiting the signature of new trade deals (with an ex-imperial power now relegated to mini-nation status…)[1]

I lived in Belfast for a year at the end of the 1970s and learnt a little about the tangled history of the 32 counties and “Anglo-Irish” relations. At that time Ian Paisley’s DUP was a forum for anger and fear, not to mention bigotry and backwardness. I had little sympathy for the ”men of terror” on both sides of the sectarian divide and despaired of any chance of peaceful solutions to a conflict, which had divided and polarised people for hundreds of years. Northern Ireland (Ulster) often seemed to be stuck in a time warp of religious mistrust belonging to the 16th and 17th centuries (”pre-enlightenment”) rather than the 20th. It was only in the wake of significant economic progress in the Irish Republic – within the European Union – from the mid-1980s that the warring factions discovered the advantages of peace and prosperity.

After the limited success of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, during the 1970s the violence of the Irish republican army (IRA) was confronted with the full force of repressive rule, from the massacre of innocents in Derry on Bloody Sunday, to internment without trial, the daily routines of surveillance by the British Army and humiliation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Frustrated by the pervasive sectarianism, I found out that a year in such an environment was more than enough. It was a great relief to move on to London (1980) and then Antwerp (1981), where people of different ”races, colours and creeds” seemed to be capable of co-existing without hatred and violence.

Subsequently I have realised that the DUP and similar movements in numerous other countries are dangerously effective in preventing people from breaking out of blinkered beliefs and by obstructing policies designed for “the common good.” By appealing to the basest instincts of tribalism and by distorting ideas and information with narratives of manifest destiny (“greatness”) and antagonism to other traditions, customs and practices, the outside world becomes a threat and “the other” an enemy. The solution to the challenges of co-existence is found in building walls and keeping guns at the ready, or in the imperial dreams of reactionaries who like nothing better than to bomb far away places about which we know little…

But then again, given the narrow-minded nostalgia that led British Conservatives (and unionists) down the Brexit pathway, perhaps the DUP are ideal partners in a project that seeks to go backwards as fast as possible while completely ignoring the urgency of measures to promote low carbon economic development in Europe (and elsewhere). Thus, it looks as if the Tories and the DUP are firmly on the side of aging crackpots like Trumped Up and the US Republicans in their increasingly desperate attempts to destroy the planet for future generations.[2]

May their miserable projects fail as fast as possible! I’m raising my glass to the worldwide revival of progressive forces… Sláinte!

[1] The letter sent by Ms. Maybe to the European Council in March 2017 invoking article 50 of the EU treaty and initiating negotiations to leave the Union was a bizarre summary of contradictory aspirations. The main message was that the UK government would seek good relations with the EU as a sovereign non-member. But the letter almost read like an application for membership in terms of emphasising the need for stable international security arrangements – to deal with the Russian threat, an age-old British bugbear – for favourable trade deals (to counter US protectionism), etc. etc. The Tories appear to have become experts in delusion, confusion and bad governance, though of course these have always been dominant characteristics of the British elite!

[2] John Oliver’s assessment of the US Government decision to withdraw from the UNFCCC Paris Agreement is worth 20 minutes of viewing time: It seems that the Canadian activist and writer Naomi Klein is publishing a new call to action, pinning her hopes on progressives and environmentalists able to defeat the self-serving, greedy, fear mongers who have taken over in Ankara, Moscow, Washington and elsewhere. She concludes a recent interview by pointing out that the US President may be an idiot, ”but don’t underestimate how good he is at that!”


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