Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O'Hanlon: Britsplaining (noun) - belief that London-based commentators can know more about Northern Ireland than someone who lives here ever could

Spare us the arrogant Remainer whose views are based on crude stereotypes they've picked up from films about the Troubles, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Host of Radio Four’s Today programme John Humphrys
Host of Radio Four’s Today programme John Humphrys
Arlene Foster

Lord Trimble believes the EU withdrawal agreement breaches the Good Friday Agreement and is raising money to test that claim in court. Others insist that it's the Agreement itself that demands a backstop be put in place.

It's rather like medieval theologians arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. All in all, it's probably best to just leave the legal eagles to it. What was much more interesting about the former Ulster Unionist leader's eleventh hour intervention was the negative response it provoked from anti-Brexit campaigners in Britain, who leapt in indignantly to declare, in effect, that he didn't understand the 1998 Agreement. That's quite some statement considering that David Trimble helped to negotiate it.

More remarkable still is the number of pro-Remain voices on the other side of the Irish Sea now prepared to assert that anyone who fails to get behind the backstop simply doesn't understand Northern Ireland itself.

There have, down the decades, not been many obvious advantages to hailing from this part of the world; strangers often heard the accent and assumed the worst. But at least people in England back in the day tended to accept that, when it came to Northern Ireland, you probably knew a teensy bit more about the situation than they did.

Brexit has changed all that. No longer is being from here deemed sufficient qualification to even express an opinion.

Dare to criticise the backstop and suddenly you'll be accused of not having the faintest clue what makes your own country tick. Don't you understand that violence will inevitably break out if Northern Ireland leaves the customs union? How can you be so irresponsible as to give more credence to your own lived experience over the feelings of someone who's suddenly an expert on the border having read a few articles in The Guardian and seen a discussion on BBC Newsnight?

This phenomenon has become much more pronounced in recent months as the Brexit deadline approaches and tension increases. I suppose we must call it "Britsplaining", after the practice known as "mansplaining", whereby men who don't know very much about a subject nonetheless take it upon themselves to explain it in patronising fashion to women who do. So it is with Britsplaining.

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You may have lived and worked in Northern Ireland your whole life. You may even, like Lord Trimble, have been a Professor of Law at Queen's University during the height of the Troubles, or served as First Minister in the inaugural devolved Assembly at Stormont.

None of this will save you from the attentions of the Britsplainers. Open your mouth to speak and, as if by magic, up will pop some arrogant English Remainer keen to explain why they know far more about what it all means for Northern Ireland than you ever could.

Some of these people have newspaper columns. Some host radio shows. Many work in the universities, where the presence of a few letters after their names has convinced them that they're innately superior to everyone else. All are feverishly active on social media where they Britsplain away to their heart's content. These people's view of Northern Ireland is generally a crude stereotype picked up from watching films about the Troubles.

In their eyes we're all basically savages who will immediately revert to shooting one another if there's any semblance of border infrastructure post-Brexit. We might not want to, but we won't be able to help it because that's who we are. We need our Britsplaining betters to save us from ourselves, and are expected to listen politely and gratefully as they do.

It's amazing that so many of these same people support a united Ireland, when they clearly have such a low opinion of us not to make a mess of things without their help. Perhaps that's because they place their trust in enlightened, sophisticated southerners to step in and take over the vital work of taming the Nordies in future.

Because it's not just pro-Remain Brits who are like this. If only it was. In the Irish Republic annoyance at the DUP for opposing the backstop has led to a parallel phenomenon. I suppose we could call it "Dubsplaining", after well-spoken, middle class media types in the Irish capital who feel an overwhelming need to keep telling pro-Brexit unionists why everything they think about the backstop is wrong.

There's a political show on RTE radio called Late Debate, in which politicians and pundits gather each night at ten o'clock to thrash out the issues of the day. Recently attention turned to DUP leader Arlene Foster's remark that there had never been a hard border - by which she meant, of course, that even a border patrolled by thousands of soldiers never stopped bad things getting through.

The discussion in the studio quickly got heated. A Sinn Fein senator from Co Mayo declared that it "shows how detached she is from people in the north". Unlike those in the west of Ireland, who presumably have some direct line of insight into our thinking?

To murmurs of approval from other guests, another speaker then piped up: "What (Arlene) means is that the border wasn't hard enough for her. She would have preferred a Trumpian wall right along the border. She probably still would like to see that happen." None of this one-sided gibberish was challenged in the studio.

The same speaker went on to suggest that he knew what he was talking about because he had "crossed the border as a child, during the Troubles, going up and having holidays at the Giant's Causeway, etcetera". Oh well, if you went on holidays to the north, then clearly we must defer to your expertise. I suppose a couple of weeks sunning oneself in Aiya Napa also counts as a sufficient qualification to discourse on the partition of Cyprus.

The southern Irish hate it when British politicians and commentators do this to them, blundering in to Irish affairs without doing their homework. Look at the reaction when Radio Four's Today host John Humphrys recently asked an Irish Government minister why the Republic didn't just "throw in their lot with this country" and leave the EU.

That was regarded as ignorant and insulting. Does no one in Dublin have the self-awareness to realise that this is what they say to unionists in Northern Ireland all the time? Nobody likes being talked down to.

It was this tone of paternalistic arrogance coming out of Brussels which led to Brexit in the first place. Those in the Irish Republic who now espouse such negative opinions of their unionist neighbours should beware that they don't generate the same backlash.

Belfast Telegraph


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