My overwhelming feelings this morning are still shock and anxiety, but despair is going to get us nowhere. I felt for days and months that this referendum wasn’t won but never really allowed myself think of the emotional consequences and real complexities – we warned about a carnival of reaction that would follow Brexit and the best we can do now is try to put some decent shape on what follows. This insane result was a leap into the unknown, it changes absolutely everything, and actually a majority of people here knew that – 57% of voters here wanted to stay in Europe and the stability, opportunity and co-operation it offers – and we have to try to reestablish those things despite the awful hand we have just been dealt. The gleeful eye poking of the DUP in the media this morning reaffirms that they are only interested in representing their narrow interests and that is a problem.
I have always believed in Irish unity, and I believe in that more than ever this morning, but it still needs to be a planned and an agreed Ireland and it absolutely needs to consider those who fear it. We have just seen what raw nationalism and populism get you. We have always said that Northern Ireland needs to work first and that has just been made more difficult. In the same way as Brexit was reckless without any plan, a knee-jerk border poll would be incredibly damaging to people here – we have just witnessed in the last month how divisive a referendum can be and the muddled, atavistic feelings it provoked in (a minority of) people, Jo Cox MP’s death is the extreme outworking of that. Things are still too raw and too fragile here to handle that. Whatever your views on the logic of it, Scotland got close to independence because they didn’t have a recent violent past and because from Day One they worked their devolution to the max and did their homework, including in a comprehensive 670 page report on what their plan looked like. Stormont and Irish nationalism have barely started either bits of that homework (and ‘NI independence’ is not viable in any form even if there was appetite, and I don’t believe there is). This is the economic synchronisation we have been banging on about while others waved flags and sang songs. To push a vote without clarifying the question is careless at best and terrifying at worst. The framework and support provided by Europe and the Good Friday Agreement (which incidentally borrowed so heavily from the Treaty of Rome, the foundation document of the EU), that allowed people to be Irish, British or both as they so choose, have been undermined. The social democratic benefits of the UK that allowed many of us to be cautiously comfortable, like stability and the NHS (which will now be in the hands of ideologues with zero attachment to it), are on their way out. My heart is genuinely broken for the tens of thousands of people from elsewhere in Europe who have worked hard to build their life here and who now have an enormous cloud over their heads and their futures.
There is an overwhelming amount of constitutional unpicking and negotiating to be done, and we can be very sure that the new forces driving the UK government are not going to be giving up one second more than they have to dwelling on the nuances of our situation. I accept that some rational, decent people in good faith voted for Brexit, though I can’t comprehend their logic. As it played out, the votes from here had no possibility of influencing the outcome, but those (a minority, I believe, but real) who voted against this referendum just through their green or orange glasses – as rocket fuel for unity, or the spitefulness of a hard border on this island – helped sacrifice many jobs and their own future in the process and we need to wrestle back control of the process to limit damage.
Some immediate issues spring to mind. Not for misty-eyed ‘fourth green field’ reasons, but in clear headed practice for the 30,000 people and numerous businesses who cross it every day, there can be no hard border on the island. It needs to be between these two islands – Enda Kenny has the key role in making sure that happens, and I suspect he will be pushing at an open door in London because whatever hardline unionism wants to think, we are all Paddies to them.
On Monday Stormont is due to discuss the budget, and the great basket of lowered corporation tax that it has put all its eggs in. We can chuck those plans in the bin. Through numerous questions to ministers over the last 9 months it is very clear that there has been no B Planning at Stormont and the clear message from any potential sources of FDI and 21st century jobs was that they wanted us stable, skilled, as a gateway to Europe and not a shaky outpost of Little Britain. Innovators and indigenous business need to get their thinking caps on, those who value labour rights and tolerance need to organise (ideally without those only seeking ‘revolution’), and we need to get smarter with spend – the massive shock to the UK economy will thump our block grant.
I am gutted but now we need to pick back up and get on with things. My own constituency voted massively for Europe and the rights and diversity it represented and it is the job of all of those who want those things to collaborate to deliver them through whatever tools we have.