At home and abroad, their ignorant dislike for Brexit means they can only ever blindly take Brussels’ side

Published: 14 October 2021

The injunction never to play chess with a pigeon is always applicable here,” wrote Kathy Sheridan, a long-standing columnist for the Irish Times on Wednesday, in an article with the headline, “How will EU look if UK’s strutting desperation for a win is rewarded again?” Incensed by the Tory MP Bernard Jenkin’s explanations on Newsnight about the context in which the Northern Ireland Protocol had been agreed, she reached for the arsenal of sneering invective which pro-EU obsessives, in the UK and beyond, have been using ever since the referendum went the wrong way.

Like her colleague Fintan O’Toole – a clever man who wrote a staggeringly stupid book about Brexit, which represented Leavers as masochistic Little Englander colonels, lamenting the death of the Empire, and who was therefore hailed as exceptionally wise by The Guardian and the New York Times – Sheridan’s journalism is typical of how some of the cultural and political elite have come to view Britain and the EU.

It shows not only extraordinary ignorance about the UK, but a pathetic belief in the moral superiority and intellectual brilliance of Brussels. This has become a distinguishing characteristic of Remainer zealots in recent years, who have chosen a team and can see no wrong in their captain’s decisions because they so hate its opponents. Unlike the squalid British government, the EU is pure in its idealist protection of the rules-based order, it shows no self-interest, and plays no games.

Since the referendum, I’ve been reading and listening to tsunamis of abuse about the wicked and shambolic British government in both parts of Ireland as well as the UK. Hilariously, as with Scotland, people who shout proudly that they are nationalists denounce the British desire for sovereignty as being toxic xenophobia.

It is strange that so many have been afflicted by this syndrome in Ireland. That the country was ferociously bullied by Brussels to rerun two referendums to get the right answer, and that the Irish economy was sacrificed in the interests of German bondholders after the 2008 financial crisis, has been expunged from the national memory.

But it is a distinctly odd phenomenon in Britain, too. These people cheered along when, under Leo Varadkar, the Irish government was weaponised by the EU to block any attempts to use virtually invisible technical solutions to enhance the existing land border. They were delighted to inform Brexiteers that the pain of the Northern Ireland Protocol was an inevitable consequence of Brexit, and that no article or line could ever be changed lest it endanger peace in the province. Michel Barnier, a distinctly average French politician, was elevated to a form of Remainer sainthood. Every setback for the UK in negotiations was greeted ecstatically, and mistakes made by the EU – which included almost absent-mindedly suspending Article 16 until the screams of horror caused a reverse ferret – were ignored.

But now the EU has moved. Reality has begun to strike in Northern Ireland, Lord Frost has played a rough game, Brussels has rescued unread papers from the rubbish bin, and has changed its tactics, magically finding that half of its pointless but compulsory checks can be abandoned after all. Its latest concessions, announced this week, are far from being enough, but they have something in common with the Brexiteers’ “max-fac” proposals so comprehensively denounced just a few years ago. At the very least, they imply a recognition in Brussels that the original deal, so “brilliantly” negotiated by Barnier, may not have been so brilliant after all.

Can we expect some humility from the Remainers, that they might reassess their view of the EU or of those despicable Brits? It’s doubtful. The beauty of their position is that, by definition, Britain can never come out on top. “The pigeon just knocks all the pieces over, s—- all over the board, then struts around like it won,” wrote Sheridan. Then again, with events catching up as her deadline loomed – she did end up with the admission that Jenkin “had got one thing right. ‘Six months ago, the EU would never have entertained any of the changes they are now proposing. They’re recognising reality,’ he said happily.” So perhaps there is still hope, after all.

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