First, confession time: I didn’t know there was an Alliance Party conference this weekend. And no, Virginia, they didn’t hold it in a telephone booth. But it does say something about the health of the party that, when you’ve said “Naomi Long” you begin to struggle to think of another big name. Stephen Farry? Mmm, maybe not.
However, Naomi was on the BBC’s Sunday Politics just now, being interviewed by Mark Carruthers. She was talking about the UK and Brexit, and she pulled together three images that just about summarize what is happening. The images were a unicorn, a race-horse and a donkey.
The unicorn, of course, is the mythical bright new future that the Brexiteers manage to sell to the English people, with talk of hundreds of millions saved and thousands of juicy deals out there, just waiting to be plucked by a newly-liberated UK.
The donkey is what the mythical unicorn has quite suddenly morphed into. Instead of cantering off into a glorious sunrise, with light glinting from the unicorn’s horn and hoofs, the UK is discovering that it’s actually mounted on a donkey. Or will be if it’s lucky. When Naomi says donkey, she’s talking about Theresa May’s sad little withdrawal bill, containing the backstop which the DUP and right-wing Tories were demanding a while back be removed. That’s over now: the Brexiteer cough has softened and they’ll be glad, if they can, to get an agreement that’ll mean no border in Ireland but will also mean we in the north of Ireland are deprived of a number of rights we had when in the EU, and the UK will be forced to mimic the customs and single market of the EU, without having a say in EU matters. A donkey is better than nothing but not much better.
Finally, the race-horse is where we are as full members of the EU. It isn’t a perfect institution, but it has meant a lot for trade and commerce throughout Ireland, it has kept the European peace more or less for seventy years, and it gives us rights as EU citizens which we’ll we’ll only properly appreciate when Theresa May has wrenched them from our hands. The absence of a hard border is good, but we’ll not enjoy the advantages in services and medicine and education that we presently enjoy as full European citizens.
So as Naomi tells it, the Brexiteers gave us visions of a snow-white unicorn which never existed and never will, Theresa May has given us her Withdrawal Bill which saves us from economic Armageddon but means we’ll be outside the EU, our noses pressed to the window, wondering how the hell did we land ourselves in this impoverished condition. And the EU gave us a race-horse, which Ireland, and particularly the south, rode and continues to ride with some skill. We got promised a unicorn, we gave the race-horse a slap and sent it galloping off, and we are getting ready to mount the donkey and listen to British politicians telling us this bare-bone ride is really a great improvement.
There’s no cure for stupid.