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A sign protesting the border (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Books tell you very little about things that happened to you but a lot about the people who write them. It’s not a very original thought: I first heard something like it as a teenager watching Sir Geoffrey Howe on Newsnight after the first televised dramatisation of Mrs Thatcher’s fall. “Ah,” the great man sighed, “so that’s how it was, you think, when you see how it was in a room you weren’t in. But then you see yourself and realise, no, it wasn’t like that at all.” Journalists are rarely in written-about rooms, but, poor social eunuchs, are cursed forever to write about them. And by some distance the most baleful consequence of Brexit has been all the books about it.

The fleetest of these was Brexit Revolt, written by staff at this magazine. It being the  first Brexit book launch party, I went: it was also the last I could bear. The late Helen Szamuley, a Brexiteer schismatic of the finest sort, came up to me and said, “Oh, you were a director of Vote Leave.” Eye-narrowing pause. “You didn’t deserve to win.” Only one sorrowful lot suffer more from Brexit having won than other Brexiteers and that’s the Most Oppressed People Ever. And no book is more lamentable than Brexit And Ireland (Penguin, £9.99) by RTE’s Europe Editor, Tony Connelly.

Imagining a banshee keening in your ear, forever, is an improvement on the experience of reading this dreary, repetitive book. But it, and its Northern Ireland-born author, illustrate our great problem with Ireland: our ignorance of its self-pity. It’s impossible for all but the most determined Briton to comprehend the passive-aggressive neurotic skulking to our west. But if forced to finish this book, you will benefit from yet another of Brexit’s miraculous boons and see quite how odd the Irish view of reality is.

For example, did you know that during the referendum Ireland’s European Commissioner, by his campaigning in the UK, “made a real contribution [to Remain]. He might even have swung quite a number of votes”? Since you struggle to name our own Commissioner a nagging doubt troubles you about this eccentric claim. But there’s more. Phil Hogan, for it was he who swung the votes, was not the only Irish official to campaign in our referendum: their ambassador and six ministers did likewise. Who am I to say whether this was happily counter-productive in addition to being markedly unwise, but the fact is that they did it.

The Irish desire to meddle inside the UK is a curious small-country variant of the Russian idea of the near-abroad, in that nothing could be felt more legitimate at home, but woe betide anyone foreign who imagines the reverse might apply: that what happens inside the Republic is a legitimate concern of the UK’s. This is what gives the patronising British coverage of all things Irish its peculiar tone. For the Irish sense of themselves is indulgently, uncritically adopted wholesale. We persist in treating them like children and holding that none of their assumptions are worth serious study. We thus miss out on some rare treats.
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mark fleming
June 27th, 2018
12:06 PM
The expression 'Brits Out' was invented for the authors type.

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