Post-Brexit Britain now reeks of outdated nationalism

Post-Brexit Britain now reeks of outdated nationalism

AS you read this those of you in the UK are no longer in the EU and those of us in the Republic of Ireland still are.

It is one of the few times in our shared history that we do not have some kind of shared political jurisdiction.

It’s 2021 and Ireland and the UK are separate.

We stand at the either side of our shared, unsettling, sleeping volcano of a border, and wonder what this all means.

We are in to the unknown. This is the place the UK’s new nationalism has brought us to.

Good luck with it. I have a feeling you are going to need it.

Not so long ago the British monarch was marking a new stage in the often torturous history between these two islands by visiting Ireland and speaking in Irish.

She mightn’t have said much while she was here but what she said was momentous.

For the reigning British Queen to speak to the Irish people in the Irish language was as symbolic as it was meant to be.

Indeed the Irish President at the time, Mary McAleese, was so taken with the Queen’s sprinkling of Irish that she simply responded at the state dinner by mouthing ‘wow.’ Three times.

Within a year of that visit London was hosting the Olympics and the UK appeared every inch a thriving, at ease with itself, multicultural society.

Yet somehow, within five years it had voted to leave the EU in a campaign most noticeable for Nigel Farage’s poster of immigrants on a hillside and a Brexit bus that told a fiction about millions of pounds being saved for the NHS.

Within another five years the Queen’s words of Irish had been replaced by Dominic Raab appearing on the BBC and casually translating our Taoiseach’s name from Micheál Martin to Michael.

I can only surmise he just couldn’t be bothered to use the Irish name, the Taoiseach’s actual name, so thought it more than acceptable for the English Foreign Affairs Minister to use an English one instead.

I wonder does he do this with German, French or Spanish leaders?

It sounds trivial, I know, and in many ways it is. But in other ways it is very symbolic.

From the British Queen speaking Irish and a joyous London hosting the Olympics at one end of the decade to Brexit and a British Foreign Minister just not bothering to use the Taoiseach’s actual name at the other end. It has been quite a turnaround.

I can only tell you what it looks like from here. From this side of the Irish Sea. From outside the UK. From inside the EU.

And to this observer the UK appears to have gone back.

You now seem a meaner, bitter place, reeking of outdated nationalism and led by a Trump-lite-bar-room Churchill impersonator.

I grew up in an England divided by class and simmering racism and lazy anti-Irish prejudice.

I don’t have any illusions about the place. But it had seemed, again from the outside, that Britain might have matured beyond that.

There was a few years there, earlier in the decade, when you seemed to have become the fine place you could be. Not now. Brexit Britain doesn’t seem like that.

Brexit Britain is not a place that invites you in.

Just the other a day a nine-year-old, who is my goddaughter and lives and goes to school in the local town, asked me if I was Irish.

I am, I said. Yes. Are you, I asked her back. She thought for a while.

I’m African, she said. Yes. I said. You are. But are you Irish as well? Because like you I wasn’t born here but I’m still Irish.

She didn’t say anything for a moment. She seemed to be thinking it over. I was about to ask if someone had said something to her about being Irish. Or not being. Yes, she said. I’m Irish too and skipped back into the innocence of childhood.

And looking at the ugly nationalism that Donald Trump fed off and the festering nationalism that Brexit bled into that is the kind of Irish I hope for.

An ‘I’m Irish too’ kind of society.

A society relaxed about its own Irishness.

A society that can find its way in this coming decade without resorting to a kind of flag waving ugliness.

A country happily and securely part of a wider European society.

A country, it looks like, that would be quite different from that of our nearest neighbour.

A happy country. A good one.

Happy New Year.