Well it was a special thing to give the After-Dinner talk at the Society of Legal Scholars Conference in Dublin last night. Here is the hall being set up and full as it was last night it is a glorious space. The conference itself is being held at UCD where I was a student many years ago and this is the first occasion the Society has ever held its annual event outside the UK. All very moving for me.
Inevitably I talked about Brexit and argued that in Ireland there is a special obligation to assist the UK at this hour of terrible need. (As those of you reading this who know my work will know I am an ‘extreme remainer’!) Ireland’s common law traditions and its long close association with Britain (or do I mean quasi-colonial domination?) will post Brexit make it a powerful bridgehead between a declining Britain outside Europe and the rest of the EU. To be effective, it is vital that somehow or other Irish-British relations survive the horrible years of rupture that inevitably lie ahead, so that when common sense returns the Irish are ready to assist.
Is this unduly provocative? Or patronising? I don’t think so. In the speech I identified six arguments for BREXIT, and found none of them persuasive. The first three are more or less the same: Brexit proponents frequently explain themselves by attacking the EU (either (i) ‘it is corrupt, venal, hopeless’ or (ii) ‘it is about to fall apart’) or (iii) attacking the people in favour of remain (‘liberal elites’; ‘experts’ etc) as out-of-touch with the people. None of these positions is an argument. They are just ways of changing the subject since all might be true but the question of whether the EU is so important that the costs – if they really exist – need to be accepted is as a result of this shift invariably dodged. The fourth (‘taking back control’) has been laid to rest by the Government itself whose key white paper has admitted that parliamentary sovereignty was in truth never subverted by the EU but that ‘it just felt like that’. The fifth – the people have spoken – is another procedural trick to avoid any discussion of substance; deployed by the other side it would render all argument after the 1975 referendum illegitimate, an idea that would have been rightly rejected by all those pushing for the more recent referendum. Democracy is by definition about fluid decision-making. The sixth argument is the strongest – we need to disrupt everything to make progress. Brexit throws all the cards on the table, the game of Britain begins afresh – all will be fine even if there are short term hiccups. Maybe. But how things will be fine and what fine will mean are never defined. This is some risk to take with a people no longer able to rely on colonial territories for the easy accumulation of wealth.
Sinn Fein means ‘Ourselves Alone or ‘We Ourselves’ in English. How will the UK enjoy being the new Sinn Feiners? Not very much I confidently predict. That’s when the old Sinn Feiners (of all contemporary political persuasions), now confidently cosmopolitan, will be needed to help rescue a country drifting aimlessly ever further out into the north sea.