The morning Britain’s divides split my heart in two 

We’re divided along generational lines, Northern Ireland and Scotland might leave us and now we’re “independent”. Lynn Enright on the end of EU love 

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By Lynn Enright on

I wasn’t the only one who got a half-arsed Brexit proposal this morning. A sort of desperate plea from a person of another nationality, my British boyfriend, eager to remain an EU citizen.

Two other colleagues had bleary-eyed pre-6am chats about marriage, I discovered when I got to work.  

It could be seen as romantic, but really it’s not. This isn’t about love particularly – it’s about fear. And that’s what the last few weeks and the vicious Leave campaigning have come down to: a loveless fear that’s made us all want to cling to life rafts while people take wild gambles on our collective future, bandying around quite nice words like "independence" and "autonomy" to mean something small-minded and closed. 

The reason I’m a good prospect for any disappointed Remain voter is because I’m Irish, from the Republic, so we’re still EU members. However, Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK – it's out, even though, on the whole, Northern Irish people voted to remain in the EU. 

And that’s a heartbreaking set of sentences for anyone from our tiny little land, smaller and more rickety than its sister island. We remember borders and border checks and division and patriotism used to stoke hate and violence; we know what it was like to live in close proximity to people who are suspicious or hateful of us; we know what it is for “independence” to become a word we won’t even utter because it’s so laden with violence and threat.

The Brexit was often likened to a divorce during the campaigning, so it makes sense that there would be desperate marriage proposals in its wake. There will be hasty hook-ups too, and opportunistic alignments

 

We know what it’s like to be overjoyed to reach the end of that time, to arrive at a time of peaceful unity, a time when your dad calls to tell you that you’re witnessing history as leaders sign a Good Friday agreement that will help unite people, help end the murders and the hate.

And we know that the European Union was instrumental in that outcome.

As the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny wrote last week: “Our common membership of the EU provided an important backdrop to the Irish and UK governments working together to secure peace in Northern Ireland. The peace process was built by the people of this island coming together.”

We are – were – truly better together. But, this morning, it looks like Northern Ireland – which heavily relies on the EU for farming, community and arts funding – could make a break for it. Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein politician and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, is calling for a united Ireland of North and South, which would of course mean a break from the UK.

Scotland too will no doubt launch a new bid for independence. 

And even, in London, there are murmurs, half-jokes of course but still, you know, we’re saying it, that we should be “independent”. After all, we overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, and yet here we are today on our way out. 

Looking around the Tube on the way to work, we eyed each other up, scanning the seats for signs of an old person – you know, one of those old people who voted to leave. Because that’s a fact – that this vote was divided along generational lines – and it’s just another division we now have to deal with. The young resent the old – those baby-boomers who live in houses millennials can never afford, have pensions they can only dream of and wanted us to leave the EU.

The Brexit was often likened to a divorce during the campaigning, so it makes sense that there would be desperate marriage proposals in its wake. There will be hasty hook-ups too, and opportunistic alignments, and bitter divisions in families, children desperately angry with their parents. 

But we must resist the factions built on a shared anger, and do the difficult bit of love, not the showy posturing of proposals, but the stuff of talking through the differences and learning to understand each other and digging deep to find fresh kindness. 

@lynnenright

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