I was born and brought up in Dublin, but I’ve lived in England since I was 21. I describe myself as British-Irish, am an enemy of violent Irish republicanism and have far more friends among Unionists than Nationalists.
But I was all too aware that the EU had been a lifesaver, economically and socially, for the once-impoverished Republic.
What persuaded me in the end was a hard, analytical look at the EU. I concluded it was utterly resistant to necessary reform and had imperialistic pretensions, while being brazenly unaccountable and increasingly sclerotic.
As an organisation it was showing every sign of being past its sell-by date.
Still, I voted Leave nervously.
These days, however, I would describe myself as a hardline Brexiteer. I was appalled at the way Brussels humiliated Theresa May, and how our own Remain-leaning civil servants seemed to hinder Brexit at every turn.
We Leavers have been derided as half-witted, ignorant racists and treated with utter contempt by Remainers in Parliament and their allies, including a disgracefully partisan Speaker, John Bercow, and a line-up of ex-PMs, ex-ministers and assorted peers.
They were at the heart of a conspiracy with European officials to undermine the United Kingdom’s attempt to regain its sovereignty. So I want Brexit and I want it now.
That said, I’m very sympathetic to the fears of Northern Irish Unionists, and latterly have been grateful to the DUP for holding the line against those pushing Brino (Brexit in name only).
But if I were an MP, I would be voting for the Prime Minister’s deal tomorrow. And in the interests of getting us out of the European Union, I now urge leader Arlene Foster, her deputy Nigel Dodds and the other eight DUP MPs to put country before party.
To understand their seeming intransigence on the proposed new Brexit deal – or at least one aspect of it – one needs to know a little of the context. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought peace to the Province but it made day-to-day, conventional politics in Northern Ireland utterly tribal.
The Rev Ian Paisley, a charismatic rabble-rouser and anti-Catholic bigot who had founded the DUP in 1971, became First Minister, while ex-IRA leader Martin McGuinness (the man who gave the eulogy at the funeral of the terrorist who tried to murder Arlene Foster’s father) was his deputy.
Sinn Fein was in government but striving to undermine the Province’s Britishness, as the Unionists battled to preserve it.
It is no wonder then that Unionists are the most loyal citizens of the United Kingdom but also the most suspicious.
They’ve seen their persecutors in Sinn Fein achieving political power and shaking hands with royals. They’re despised at Westminster for their socially conservative views. And they believe that British governments will always sell them out. Yes, the DUP voted Leave because of sovereignty but they have been wary every step along the way towards Brexit – and remain so now. The DUP are rightly convinced that Sinn Fein will scrutinise any Brexit deal for all opportunities to pull Northern Ireland away from the United Kingdom and propel it towards a United Ireland.
That is why the DUP’s most important sticking point in the deal now on the table is the absence of a ‘consent mechanism’.
It is an important aspect of the Good Friday Agreement that major decisions should be subject to the consent of both Unionists and Nationalists. What has been agreed with the EU abandons that principle for a simple majority vote.
The DUP leadership has uncompromising politicians inside and outside the party snapping at its heels. It is genuinely fearful of going under to cries of ‘sell-out’.
But do they worry too much? I think so. A hard-line but pragmatic Unionist friend wrote the following to me today:
‘Here,’ he said, ‘is what I would say to the DUP. Get real! This [Brexit deal] isn’t ideal, but it could put Northern Ireland in a terrific position as a gateway between the EU and the UK/world economy.
‘Also, our position in the UK is frankly shaky – the medium-term outlook demographically is terrible and the DUP aren’t to be the olive branch Unionism needs into RC communities and people in GB have limited patience. So in short, shut up, DUP.’
I fear he’s right. If the DUP leadership does not now compromise with Boris Johnson, Unionists may ultimately find themselves pushed out of the United Kingdom.