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TV Review: State of Chaos essential viewing for united Irelanders

Laura Kuenssberg
Laura Kuenssberg Laura Kuenssberg

Laura Kuenssberg:  State of Chaos, BBC 2, Monday and iPlayer

For those who support the theory that Britain has begun a terminal decline and that the days of the Union are numbered, this is essential viewing. 

Laura Kuenssberg, who was the BBC’s political editor until 2022 and now runs the eponymous Sunday morning show, displays the power of her contacts book in this tour de force on the destructive nature of Brexit. 

The havoc which befalls Northern Ireland is yet to feature (there are two episodes to go) but a number of secretaries of state and NIO ministers have already appeared. 

It’s a tough call as to whether current minister of state for Northern Ireland, Steve Baker is a crank or an extremely honest politician. 

The former chair of the ERG group tells us he responded with fury to Theresa May’s Chequers proposal and paints a less than sympathetic picture of himself. 

“I spent the subsequent weekend in my roof study in front of my big screen, in my shorts and flip-flops and t-shirt, absolutely waging war on the government – Twitter, Whatsapp, talking to colleagues, procuring resignations.  I was planting stories for journalists, amplifying tweets by sending them around networks of MPs, absolutely whipping the media cycle and the newspapers into a frenzy.” 

He apologises for calling people “traitors” at the time and now lectures the DUP on recognising when they have been offered an imperfect, but best available deal. 

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Former sectaries of state for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith and Brandon Lewis appear, as does the recently appointed Labour shadow Hillary Benn. 

However, the focus in episode one is on the chaos inside government and Whitehall as the British state struggled with squaring the circle on implementing the will of the people, as given in the referendum, and avoiding a catastrophic impact on the economy. 

Helen MacNamara, the impressive deputy cabinet secretary at the time, whom we were told hadn’t spoken publicly before, tells gobsmacking tales such as a dispute between her and Dominic Cummings. 

As it emerged that Boris Johnson was prepared to prorogue parliament to drive through Brexit legislation, she clashed with Cummings about avoiding doing illegal things.  Cummings, she maintains, took the opposite view. 

We also see the preceding May premiership from the inside and it’s as ugly as you might have imagined. 

She was in the impossible position of trying to unite a cabinet split evenly between remainers and Brexiters and didn’t have the political nous to come anywhere close. 

Bizarrely, she hid the 2017 election manifesto from her own cabinet until they were sitting in the front row at its launch. 

The Chequers proposal brought about her end and the UK has now had five prime minsters in 10 years. 

Philip Rycroft
Philip Rycroft Philip Rycroft

But beware gloating about Britain’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity.  There is a warning here about the dangers of getting the thing that you have long wished for. 

The English opponents of the EU plotted for decades to get themselves out of the union, which by the time of the referendum it had only been a member of for just over 40 years. 

The Act of Union is more than 200 years old and England’s involvement in Ireland goes back more than 800 years. 

Speaking about the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, senior civil servant Philip Rycroft sends us an unintended warning. 

“This is what referendums do, they drive a very deep wedge into the political psyche of the country and it’s very, very hard to recover from that. We saw that in Scotland … I sort of knew what was coming and it’s not been pretty.”