Monkey business, Brexit

I went Up The North today, to catch up with an old mate in Co. Down. I had my directions memorised. But it didn’t stop me getting lost. That’s not the story though.

I crossed the border without evening knowing it. I’d the radio on and was listening to how the Gardaí had raided a halting site in Finglas, finding guns, drugs, and a very expensive live caged monkey. Photographs of the monkey showed it looking very bored indeed. Subsequent reporting talked of how the value of the monkey (€2000) is indicative of how much money there is in the drugs business. The story then moved to other examples of exotic animals owned by drug kingpins. And the old story of a captured mobile phone showing a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison sharing his cell with a budgie named Shrek. It’s no wonder I was distracted.

When I finally focused on where I was going, I noticed that the white registration plates in front of me had morphed to yellow, the green post boxes had turned to red, and the speed limit had gone from kilometres to miles (I hope I noticed this in time). The price of petrol had dropped dramatically, too, but it would, as I was now in sterling country.

It was only then that the full force of Brexit hit me. Yes, I’ve been keeping up with what’s going on (or not going on) and yes, I’d been concerned about thoughts of a hard border, but it had all be quite superficial. I’d not really stopped to think what it would mean if we went back to the days when you couldn’t move from Ireland to Northern Ireland without noticing.

Granted, back then, the border was political in the extreme. A Brexit border would be more about customs checks than dodgy customers. But that said, anything that impinges free movement between the two countries can’t be good.

Next up on the radio was a report from Killybegs, Ireland’s fishing capital, where a whole slew of boats has been docked till next January. Why? Most of them fish for mackerel. They fish in Scottish waters, off the coast of Orkney because that’s where the mackerel are when they’re at their oiliest. And oily fish is what the Japanese want. Usually, they keep some of their quota till the autumn so that they can spread out the profit and keep more locals in jobs in the processing plants. But this year, uncertain as to what Brexit would bring, and unclear whether they’d be allowed to fish in UK waters post-April, they caught their full quota and now have nothing left to fish for.

If Brexit happens, the UK will no longer be bound by the Russian embargo on EU agricultural and fish products. And next to or above the Japanese, the Russians are big consumers of mackerel. So UK fishers will be able to sell all that lovely early oily mackerel to Russia, upping the prices, and thus killing off the Irish mackerel market and the livelihoods of lord knows how many as collateral damage. The Japanese will hardly want the less oily mackerel that make it into Irish waters.

As a complete aside, the growing mackerel population is apparently responsible for the high salmon mortality rate at sea… the number of salmon returning to their Irish rivers to spawn is down 70%. Anyway, those interviewed were rightly upset. Fishing is the scaly-headed stepchild that no one really cares about. That said, the lads interviewed seemed impressed with Michel Barnier, who has been pushing to include fishing under the general trade banner.

Until today, Brexit has been a pretty abstract phenomenon for me. I’ve been watching from the sidelines at the idiocy of it all. I’ve read the news. Listened to the debates. Watch the reporting. But I’ve been one step removed. I woke up on Friday, 24th June 2016, as shocked as the rest of the world at the result of the referendum but until today, I’d never really felt anything about it. It was all in my head, not in my heart. This evening, I’ve a newfound empathy with my remainer British friends. And am certain that no one has fully come to terms with the magnitude of it all, of the changes it undoubtedly will bring. The old adage of not appreciating what you have until you no longer have it comes to mind.



When the dream becomes a nightmare

Across the pond, Americans are casting their votes. Who will be the next President of the United States of America is a question still to be answered. For many, it’s a matter choosing the lesser of two evils. For others, their vote will be used not to favour one candidate but to ensure that the other doesn’t win.

For months now, social and mainstream media have been deluged with so-called facts and figures, chosen to paint a specific picture, depending on a given perspective. Opinions have been aired, insults have been traded. Personal values have been lost in the tirade of abuse that has ruled. Many, espousing to be Christians, have shown a marked lack of respect in their treatment of those who don’t share their opinions. Judgements have been made, accusations have been levelled. The ugly side of popular opinion has come to the fore.

Very little has been said by way of policy or plans for the future. Very little has been said about tomorrow, or next year. Very little of any value has come out the debates, those on TV and those that have taken place in homes and pubs around the world. It seems to me that the concerned world has been too busy venting and ridiculing to be constructive.

Tomorrow, those of us on this side of the pond will wake up to news of who gets to sit in the Oval office. Life will continue, regardless of the choice and whatever fears we have for the future under a given command, will need to be checked and dealt with.

But in the aftermath, I wonder how we will all cope with the diminished levels of trust that will surface. How will we deal with friends, family, and colleagues who are adamant supporters of someone we could never countenance to hold such an office. Will we ever truly trust their opinions in the future? Will something fundamental have torn in the fabric of our relationships, something that might take years to mend? Will the next four years be about both sides either  congratulating themselves on a good choice or bemoaning the choice of others – a massive tide of ‘See, I told you!’?

I don’t know.

I’ve had my arguments and my disagreements about major controversies. I’ve had my share of pitying looks when I expressed an opinion that went against the popular one. But those issues were more abstract. They were about policies, about history, about peoples, and not about a choice between two individuals, who together have managed to divide a nation and a large part of the greater world.

I wonder if we will recover. Or if this is just the first wedge in a divide that will grow as the next few years unfold.

In the months after Brexit, it’s clear that business as usual is not a given. If anything, the nastiness is getting worse. The results of the referendum, the vote, didn’t end anything, but rather started a downward spiral into a consuming morass of hatred.

electionPerhaps this evening is the last page in a chapter of world history. And tomorrow, the real horror story begins. Not because of the result and who is elected, but because our inability to handle the consequences.




2016 Grateful 27

Brexit. Bremain. The votes were cast. The public spoke and yet the furor continues. The recriminations. The blame. The castigations. I don’t hold a UK passport so I find myself strangely removed from it all. Yes, I had hoped for a remain vote. No matter how bad the EU is, working to fix it is more the answer than worrying away at a thread that could eventually see it unravel. IMHO. Someone somewhere once said that “many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”  I’m not as politically aware as I could be and would have made more of an effort to update myself had I had to vote. For me it was enough to see who was supporting Brexit.

Still, an innate curiosity has me still reading the articles and the comments that form the post-referendum deluge. And two in particular struck a note – a shorter comment on democracy from a Facebook thread that was not sourced. It got me wondering about democracy and margins and majorities:

Two thoughts about the Brexit vote:
Firstly: No one thought it could happen. why didn’t anyone think it could happen? Because the analysis listened to the experts who listened only to themselves. Welcome to the echo-chamber. Never hear anything beyond what is already being said. Maybe even only listening to confirmation-bias. Serious questions needs to be asked as to polling, and as to analysis. Everyone is “shocked” because no one bothered to ask anyone outside of London what they think.
Secondly: Democracy. Ah, what a wonderful system. The people has spoken. Either you support democracy, or you do not. If you are a “stay” voter, and feel disgruntled by it, take heart: democracy won! The people have spoken. But this brings in another question: is a rural country bumpkin’s opinion on the matter as valid as someone with an honours in PPE? Democracy: the notion that one person’s ignorance carries as much weight as another person’s knowledge. Welcome to the great failure of democracy. Wonderful when your guy wins, quite sucky when he loses, huh?

And a longer comment that I lifted from Facebook – it had previously been lifted from a comment thread Again, no source…

“If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost.
Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron.
With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership.
Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.
And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.
The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.
The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?
Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?
Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.
If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.
The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.
When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.
All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign”

What happened, happened. But all is not lost. In a week that has caused many to stop and think a little harder than usual, I’m grateful for the reminder: Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. And that I can attribute to Einstein 🙂