Jake O'Kane: Thanks to Brexit, Britain's beginning to look a lot like the north

Relax, everything is going to be OK. I can't tell you the number of times rumours of an impending civil war led to panicked people clearing shops of essentials. Each time, the civil war never happened, or at least not to the extent that milk and bread deliveries were stopped

Arlene Foster with former Brexit secretaries Dominic Raab, left and David Davis, second right, Eurosceptic Tory ex-minister Lord Lilley and pro-Brexit lawyer Shanker Singham in London last week. Picture by Steve Parsons/PA
Jake O'Kane

HARD Brexit, soft Brexit, no Brexit, Brino, hard border, soft border, backstop, Irish Sea border, Canada plus, Norway model, divergence, ECJ, EEA, EFTA, Article 50, March 29 deadline... The lexicon around Brexit seems never-ending and I’m finding it difficult keeping up. To be honest, I’m sick hearing about the damn thing. It feels as if Brexit is all that’s been in the news – forever.

The doom merchants would have us believe we need to start stockpiling milk, bread and medication, all because idiotic politicians in Westminster can’t agree. When the prime minister’s Brexit bill was soundly defeated by 230 votes last Wednesday, some commentators were in such a lather of excitement that you’d have thought the end of the world was nigh. There was talk of historic change, even the extinction of democracy as we know it.

Here’s what I think. Relax, everything is going to be OK, and even if it isn’t OK, it’ll still be OK. This confidence comes from having lived through a war. I can’t tell you the number of times rumours of an impending civil war led to panicked people clearing shops of essentials. Each time, the civil war never happened, or at least not to the extent that milk and bread deliveries were stopped.

And so it will be with Brexit. There will be change and upset but the sun will rise and fall, and those of us lucky enough to have a job will go to work and come home. The rich will get richer as the poor get poorer, and life will continue much as it always has.

The bigger story is how the illusion of political competence has been smashed and British society is witnessing how power is wielded in tooth and claw. Like the scene from The Wizard Of Oz, Brexit has pulled back the curtain to reveal the big bad ogre is nothing more than a silly little man pulling levers. Our political class are finally revealed for what they are – untrustworthy, self-serving egomaniacs. And I know, it takes one to know one.

Too late, the British people have realised that those they elected have absolutely no idea how to implement the most important constitutional change in generations. With a Tory party on the point of a split and a Labour Party that's unelectable, the UK is beginning to look a lot like Northern Ireland.

Compared to our friends on the ‘big island’, we have the advantage of being used to political dysfunction – the two years of incompetence they’ve experienced, we’ve lived with for 20. We’ve become accustomed to staring into the political abyss and know politicians eventually cobble together some half-ar*ed solution, if only to ensure their salaries.

I have to admit, it’s been fun watching the contributions of local politicians in the UK Brexit debacle, be it Sammy Wilson misspeaking during a Newsnight interview, saying the DUP had "fought a terrorist campaign to stay part of the United Kingdom", or the unedifying spectacle of Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard lurking on Westminster’s College Green, desperate for some bored film crew to ask his opinion.

When Mr Hazzard finally got interviewed, he pompously announced Sinn Fein had no part in the Westminster circus. That should have prompted the obvious question, "Why then are you standing outside Westminster on a cold January night?"

And God knows what Arlene Foster was drinking when she announced there had never been a hard border in Ireland during the Troubles. Was I hallucinating then when I saw British army lookout towers at every major border crossing?

It’s got very, very silly and it doesn’t look as if it’s going to improve anytime soon. Be it a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, or no Brexit, there’s one certainty – we’ll be left with the same idiotic politicians.

Talk of a people's vote is gathering traction, and rightly so. We now know facts we didn’t at the time of the referendum. We didn’t know about the shady funding around the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign which resulted in them being fined £70k by the Electoral Commission. We didn’t know the DUP had spent £282k on a pro-Brexit advertisement in a London newspaper, funded by an undeclared donation of £435k.

What we do know is that we were deceived about extra money for the NHS and about how easy Brexit would be to implement. Surely an uninformed choice was no choice at all – put it back to the people to decide now they have the facts and not the hype.

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