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Let's be thankful we jumped the sinking ship called Europe

Leave voters were stigmatised as being out of step with so-called 'respectable' opinion. A month after the poll, in the wake of the outrages in France and Germany, the decision now seems more circumspect, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 28/07/2016

Europe has suffered a series of horrifying terror attacks in recent weeks including Nice and Munich
Europe has suffered a series of horrifying terror attacks in recent weeks including Nice and Munich
Europe has suffered a series of horrifying terror attacks in recent weeks including Nice and Munich

Terrorist atrocities inside churches were not unknown during the Troubles. Most infamous of all was the 1983 murder of three worshippers at a Pentecostal church in Darkley, Co Armagh, by the so-called Catholic Reaction Force. Even by our standards, though, the murder of a priest in Normandy, whose throat was slit by Islamic militants as he served Mass in his small rural church, was shocking.

That it's only the latest in an ongoing series of attacks by Islamic militants is what's really shaken Europe's sense of equilibrium. An axe attack on train passengers in Bavaria; the death of a suicide bomber outside a rock festival in the same part of Germany; a pregnant woman hacked to death at a bus stop by a Syrian refugee; most awful of all, the murder of 84 people celebrating Bastille Day on the promenade in Nice.

Turning on the news right now is like stepping into a real-life house of horrors, not knowing what we'll see next. There's a feeling that no one and nowhere is safe, and it's hard to believe that it was only a month ago that the UK voted to leave the European Union. If a week is a long time in politics, the last 30 or so days have been a positive eternity.

Back then the talk was all of widespread "buyer's regret", as voters who'd opted to get out of the EU woke up to the ominous realisation that it had happened and they would now have to live with the consequences.

As the weeks have gone by the mood has shifted. The economic sky hasn't fallen in yet - though there's plenty of Chicken Littles wishing that it would - and the elevation of Theresa May as Prime Minister led to a new confidence that there was a steady hand on the tiller as the country headed into negotiations on a new trade deal with Brussels.

Then the latest wave of terrorist attacks began.

Not all of them turned out to be related to the recent influx of refugees. The multiple shootings at a shopping centre in Munich were the work of a disturbed young German-Iranian man more inspired by mass shootings, such as those of Right-wing Norwegian nationalist Anders Brevik, than Islamic State. Ultimately, it didn't matter. The headlines simply added to the fear that Europe is in crisis and that the two main pillars of the EU are both at the epicentre of a perfect storm.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the door last year to more than a million refugees from Syria and Iraq now looks like political suicide, while Francois Hollande's socialist government is facing terminal unpopularity amid accusations that it cannot keep French people safe, and has even lied in an attempt to cover up its failings.

Europe is rudderless and suddenly the decision to get out looks less crazy than it did when the votes for Brexit were counted.

The attempted coup in Turkey, with more dead in the streets, merely added to the paranoia. This in a country that was being groomed for EU entry only a short time ago. Suddenly it too was succumbing to apparent chaos.

The poet WB Yeats' words never sounded more apt: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

Smug Remain supporters blamed the Brexit vote on an irrational fear and loathing of foreigners, but it's not so much immigration that troubles voters so much as a feeling that Europe is not prepared for the huge changes which allowing in so many people so quickly will bring.

Europe has embarked on a huge experiment in how to successfully integrate millions of strangers that has never been undertaken before, certainly not in the middle of an economic downturn EU power-brokers show no signs of knowing how to end, either.

Add to that cocktail of instability the fact that a large percentage of those arriving into the EU are young men, the very group most likely to be radicalised, and it's no wonder that far from regretting the loss of the EU, many who weren't sure if they'd done the right thing are now glad to be rid of it.

Most refugees are not violent or extreme, but how are we supposed to tell the difference between those who are and those who are not when even the security services aren't able to screen them effectively?

If they settle in Europe, what's more, how can we be sure that their children and grandchildren won't grow up to despise their adopted countries in the same way that so many second and third-generation Muslims in the ghettos on the outskirts of Paris have learned to hate France? We can't.

Faced with that uncertainty, it's hardly unnatural to feel some comfort at having called a halt to this madness while we still can.

When a car's out of control, the best policy is to apply the brake.

There hasn't been a major terrorist incident in Britain since the July 7 bombings in 2005 and, while there are no guarantees that there won't be bloodshed on British streets at some future date (plots are being thwarted regularly), there's also no evidence of any downside to having more control over who gets to come here from parts of the globe whose cultures remain hostile to our way of life.

It can't hurt, let's put it that way.

It's not as if British voters are alone in feeling that the European project is cracking under the strain. There's palpable disquiet in France.

The clamour for 'Quitaly' - as the Italian proposal to leave the EU is called - is growing.

Even a deputy from Chancellor Merkel's own conservative bloc in the Reichstag has said "we have to regain sovereignty" - and while it's always ominous to hear a man with a German accent talking about the need for the Fatherland to assert itself, it is a reminder that Britons who felt disquiet about the effects of mass immigration were not deranged for wanting to control their own borders.

Those who backed Brexit were made to feel ashamed for being out of step with respectable opinion in Europe. Instead, it's becoming clearer that it's EU elites who are out of step with ordinary people, who are scared and apprehensive and desperately in need of reassurance.

France and Germany should be given every neighbourly assistance to defeat the evil in their midst; but as Europe comes more and more to resemble a sinking ship, there's nothing wrong with breathing a sigh of relief that we're no longer one of the passengers.

Belfast Telegraph

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