Although people are still shocked that I voted Leave, I’ve no regrets whatsoever, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
I had an HM Bateman moment last month at the West Cork History Festival when in response to a question about the rise of English nationalism I said I had voted for Brexit. The shocked faces reminded me of the great cartoonist’s famous series ‘The Man Who...’ — featuring wildly exaggerated reactions to social gaffes.
I’m still sometimes amazed by the inability of many Remain voters to grasp that most Leave votes were cast for perfectly decent reasons.
To feel that you want secure borders is not to be racist or anti-immigrant.
And to think that sovereignty matters and elected United Kingdom governments can better be trusted to decide our future than the profoundly undemocratic EU Commission is not a manifestation of bigoted nationalism.
I had a look at what I wrote last year in outlets other than the Belfast Telegraph to see if I agreed with those sentiments now.
“I finally voted ‘out’ because I thought staying shackled to an unreformed, arrogant, expansionist, bullying and inept EU would be a worse option for the United Kingdom than relying on the courage and initiative of those who live in it to carve out an unindentured future,” I said in June.
In July I wrote of my dislike of EU protectionism: “Far from being the outward, open, diverse institution its supporters speak of, the EU is secretive, keeps the world out, prevents members from making bilateral trade deals and tries to impose uniformity on their laws and governments.”
And in October I was showing no signs of remorse.
“As I struggled long and hard about how to vote on Brexit” the possible consequences for Ireland troubled me greatly, but in the end I couldn’t support staying in what I think has become a sprawling, sclerotic, dysfunctional, bureaucratic hell-hole incapable of meeting such urgent challenges as mass migration and Russian aggression, while demanding a European army that can only undermine Nato,” I wrote.
It had never suited the English, was my view in October, for they “distrust vast continental projects, but was good for Ireland for a long time. Yet in recent times it assisted Ireland’s plunge into irresponsible debt, sacrificed the country to German bankers and bullied and continues to bully Ireland because it is small”.
And in November I wrote in Prospect, a Left-leaning London-based magazine, that as an Irish citizen and a British resident, I had voted for Brexit after much soul-searching because I thought it in the interests of the majority of people in these islands and, indeed, Europe.
But the fear and distress evident among many Irish people was getting to me, so I finished my article with: “Now, watching the hurt and fear among my countrymen, I feel strongly that the British Government owes it to its small neighbour to make every effort to minimise the collateral damage.”
I’m pleased to find I agree with myself on all that.
As I see the media talking up crisis, rubbishing our negotiators and alluding reverentially to their skilled counterparts in Europe, I’m more certain than ever that I made the right decision.
I’ve been reading a fascinating book by the one-time Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose politics I don’t share but who is a brilliant observer and had a torrid time trying vainly to save Greece from destitution.
In Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment he illustrates graphically how the main priorities of those who run the EU and such institutions as the IMF are “the preservation of the insiders’ political capital and the minimisation of any challenge to their collective authority”.
Since the referendum, in its outraged pronouncements and total lack of generosity, the EU establishment has been proving his point.
The British Government, however, is genuinely trying to minimise the pain of Ireland, north and south.
This would be far easier to achieve if Ireland — as the most interested party of the 27 — had been allowed to be involved in the negotiations.
I just hope that its government remembers how brutally the EU treated it in the past and works out with the British the solutions to problems that matter desperately on this island but few will care much about in Brussels.