Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition on the 30th May 2016.
Dear British friends,
It’s us, the Irish. You know us. The people next door you don’t quite regard as foreigners yet aren’t sure who we are. We do have that language thing and use strange words for prime minister and there was all that unpleasantness where we were killing each other.
But look, that’s all gone save for the real nutters. Now we both support the same Premiership players, and laugh at “Father Ted”, although we reckon you don’t get half the jokes.
But things are pretty grand now. The Queen came and spoke what we call the Cúpla Focal, and we got her safely out of the country without one of the aforementioned nutters blowing her up. In short, the relationship we have now is the best relationship our two peoples have had since one of our lads asked one of your lads to come over and put manners on some other lads 800 years ago. It’s fair to say that we are friends.
That’s why I’m writing about this Brexit thing. Now, we know how you feel about the Germans. I mean, you’ve been watching “Dad’s Army” for over 48 years now, so that’s bound to have had an effect. Our own attitude to herself in Berlin is mixed too: on the one hand they did build our roads (and are mentioned in our sacred Proclamation) but we also feel not a little aggrieved over the whole baling out of the Franco-German banking system. But let’s cut to the chase: we really don’t want you to leave the EU. It’ll be terribly disruptive along the border, and with regard to the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens we have in each other’s countries. Life is hard enough without this.
Don’t get us wrong. We get your complaints about the EU, and they irritate us too. There seems to be blokes in Brussels with nothing to do all day but think up new forms for us to fill in to ensure transgender badgers get their high heel allowance. We get that. But that’s modern life. If you weren’t in the EU your own civil servants would be dreaming up this stuff. The public say they don’t want red tape or regulation until someone finds a bit of Shergar in their sausages then it’s “who’s the Sausage Czar?”
But aside from all the red tape, real or imagined, there’s the fear factor, and this is where the two of us differ. See, you seem genuinely afraid of Brussels. We’re not, and we’re only a fraction of the size of you. I reckon it’s because your politicians aren’t very good at negotiating, whereas ours, like the rest of Europe, are used to coalitions and haggling every day over everything from policies to who’s brother-in-law gets put onto a state board. Yours are a bit shouty, finger-pointy, just a little bit too “Get Carson to bring the car around”, whereas ours are more “I can get you a nice Ford Cortina, easy on the clock. For cash, like. In the hand.”
We engage, because like all small countries we have to be acutely aware of what’s going on around us as we tend to get marched on by chaps in pointy hats and big moustaches. The Nazis, that is. Not the Village People. Us, the Belgians, the Danes, the Dutch, we want to be at the table because we know the table is where it will happen even if we’re not there. That’s what so perplexing for us watching you putting on your raincoat and ambling towards the door with your plastic Co-Op bag. You’re giving in. You’re basically saying that the rest of us play too rough and you think you’ll find the Russians or the Chinese or the Americans easier on you.
But that’s not you, and we know it. You didn’t get off the fishing boats after Dunkirk and ring that Austrian corporal to say that you give up. You dusted yourselves off, took a breather, and came up the beaches in Normandy and put Nazis in the ground. Do you think those poor wizened souls you liberated from Belsen were disappointed that you hadn’t decided Europe was just too hard and walked off the pitch? You helped save Europe. Yes, because you recognised that what happened on the continent affected you but also because it was the right thing to do. You’re not the nation of quitters the Brexiteers say you are.
This referendum is an opportunity for future British prime ministers to say “We live here too, and here’s our plan to make it better.” You’re not without friends. You’re not without allies who agree with you on many of the problems of the EU.
But we can only stand with you if you’re willing to fight, not run for the door because the fight is just too hard.
You’re the second largest country in the European Union. This continent cradles the bodies of thousands of your sons and daughters who helped liberate seven countries from one of the most evil regimes in human history. You don’t lack courage. But you have to use it, and that means staying in the EU and fighting to change it.
In short, fighting them in the commission, fighting them in the council, fighting them in the parliament, and never surrendering.
Because you see that never surrender bit? On that, you’ve got form.