Northern Ireland news

Lord Patten says Brexit will damage Britain and Ireland

Lord Patten said that as an EU member Ireland had become more pluralist and more committed to individual liberty

The man who oversaw police reform in Northern Ireland has described Brexit as an "egregious act of self-harm" which will cause "hurt and damage" both in Britain and Ireland.

Former Tory cabinet minister Chris Patten – now Lord Patten of Barnes – claims that talk of a frictionless border in Ireland without customs and regulatory alignment is "make believe" and that Britain may have to "manage some sort of retreat to buy time" in its negotiations with the EU.

Delivering the Iveagh House Lecture entitled 'Ireland, Britain and the Challenge of Nationalism' in Dublin yesterday, the University of Oxford chancellor blamed English nationalism and a "tone of truculent populism" in elements of Britain's print media for the UK's decision to leave the EU.

He said Ireland had become "more pluralist" and more committed to individual liberty and human rights as a "constructive" member of the EU, whereas Britain had become "less comfortable" and "less at home" in Europe.

He acknowledged that there is "plenty to criticise" with the EU but believes the UK should co-operate with its neighbours in a world "threatened by Vladimir Putin's murderous and mendacious kleptocracy" and also by "mercantilist Leninism" in China and a US administration in "dubious hands".

Lord Patten, who in the 1980s was a Northern Ireland Office junior minister before being appointed the last British governor of Hong Kong, said "Brussels and immigration" fuelled pro-Brexit sentiment in England alongside "whipped up hysteria that we had lost control of our democracy and our money".

"That slippery concept of sovereignty provided a superficially moral justification for many supporters of Brexit, especially I suspect older ones, to abandon their adherence to the customary relationship between economic evidence and voting intentions, which still matters a great deal to their children," he said.

The former cabinet minister described the EU referendum as an "attempt to manage the right-wing of the Conservative Party", which he believes wrongly blamed the EU for the "defenestration of Margaret Thatcher".

But he criticised those who campaigned for the "act of egregious self-harm" that is Brexit without knowing what would happen in the aftermath of the June 2016 vote.

Lord Patten believes the UK wants a lengthy transition period as it severs ties Brussels but said it had ruled out many compromise measures.

"... we want to abandon membership of the EU with pockets full of opt-outs, and settle instead for life outside our largest market with as many opt-ins as we can cram on the back of a lorry," he said.

The man who in the late 1990s oversaw police reform in the north said the debate around Brexit had turned into an "assault on the institutions and values... that have made liberal democracy itself work so well".

"Moreover, for Britain to leave the EU will hurt us; it will hurt and damage an important part of the international infrastructure of co-operation; and it will hurt you – another example of what Dr (Garret) Fitzgerald called – very gently – one of the careless and incontinent interventions in Ireland's affairs for which we have been from time to time recklessly responsible," he said.

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