So just what am I?

One of the side issues of the UK’s Brexit deal, is that EU citizens living in the UK will no longer be entitled to stay unless they are granted “settled status”. This is a new category of status that’s different to indefinite leave to remain. It is open to all EU residents who’ve lived in the UK for five years or more.

Applying is an easy process except it’s currently only available to users of Android devices. Oh and it costs £65 per adult. The Home Office insists that the starting position for applications, is that the applicant has the right to remain. But past Home Office and Government IT projects weren’t exactly without controversy.

However for me there’s a get out clause. Settled status won’t apply to Irish citizens because of a 1920s agreement that predates the EU.

I was born in Ireland, and despite having lived in the UK for over 50 years, I still hold an Irish passport. Yet here I am able to vote in UK elections. What’s more, that won’t change even if Brexit happens. My Austrian wife on the other hand, won’t have those rights after Brexit. She’ll have to apply for settled status or Irish citizenship.

This raised the question of identity. Just what am I? Cut me, and my blood is Irish. My maternal grandfather would probably disown me if I said otherwise. Yet I’ve a mix of Irish and English culture in me. I don’t speak more than a few words of Gaelic. I was educated in London. As a result I’ve learnt about Irish history from an English perspective. I’ve read unbiased work to fill in the gaps to see things from the other side, but I still don’t feel I know as much about Irish history as I should do.

I ask myself if I’m really English. I don’t think I am. So does that make me Irish? Well yes, but with an English slant. Personally I identify more as a Londoner than English. Actually I see myself as a south west Londoner. Well No. I’m a south west Londoner who enjoys his work, watching football, drinking the odd beer or two, and spending time with my family.

Does that make me Irish? Well, yes and no. I’ll never be anything other than Irish. I’ll maintain that passport as long as I’m able to. But who I really am is so much more than a legal piece of paper. I’m a citizen of the world.

With democracy comes responsibility.

Westminster in London is the center of the UK’s parliament. It’s where the Houses of Parliament are located and where our parliamentarians work. It is also where the worlds media have a semi-permanent presence, particularly at times of big news stories.

At the moment, the UK is struggling with the biggest issue in awhile; Brexit. There’s a lot opposing views, and a lot of people willing to voice their right to speak out. This applies equally to politicians speaking to the media, and members of the public talking to their politicians. This is a sign of a healthy functioning democracy.

Trouble is, some seem to have forgotten that free speech doesn’t mean hate speech. It’s a fine line admittedly. But when that line is crossed, it ceases to become speaking out, and becomes a threat to the very act of free speech.

Yesterday one of our politicians was being interviewed by the BBC who has strong views on Brexit. I may not agree politically with everything she says,  but I’ll listen to what she has to say. However a growing and vocal number of protesters are attempting to sabotage such interviews by standing close by and shouting. Most of the vocalisation is just words, but there have been occasions where it has become very personal.

Some may argue that being called a liar is par for the course for a politician. After all they often find themselves having to avoid answering a direct question, even if they personally want to give a direct answer. A politician should be able to rise about that abuse. Being called a Nazi on the other hand is something else.

Over the last few years the rise in such rhetoric has been noticeable. We saw it in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. We’re definitely seeing it now both during and after the Brexit referendum.

As responsible individuals, we must remember that our right to free speech brings with it a responsibility that we treat lightly at our peril. Speak out, yes, but do it with respect for the other side. The irony for those calling our politicians Nazis may be lost on them, as this is exactly how the Nazis came to power. If that happens, there won’t be a lot of opportunity for protesting.

Brexit and The Irish Border

If there is one political story that is rarely off the front pages, it’s Brexit. It’s everywhere. It’s the first question on every political show, and rightly so. After all it’s outcome will affect us all for decades to come. “OK”, I hear you say. “How do you know this when we don’t know the detail of what is on offer?” True enough, we don’t know what the deal will be, or even if there’ll be a deal. Here’s the thing though. Regardless of whether we have a deal with the European Union or not, the political landscape will be significantly different for better or worse.

A year ago, the topic of conversation over Brexit coffee tables was the three main problem areas of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. Namely:

  • The rights of citizens of European Union countries who already live in the UK to remain here.
  • Trade negotiations.
  • The Irish border.

The first was fairly easily resolved. There was never any real desire from anyone to throw people out of the country that were legally here. It is undeniable that immigration played a part in the Brexit vote, but that was about reducing the number coming here, not exporting those already here.

Trade negotiations is a little more difficult. Will we still be part of the customs union and have a tariff free agreement? Or will we follow the Norway model of being part of the European single market. This would allow us to have broadly the same tariffs as the custom union, but also allow us to negotiate our own trade agreements with non-EU countries. Lastly there’s the no deal option, where we’d have to negotiate all trade agreements under World Trade Organisation rules.

If there’s no deal on trade, it could well be because of the final issue. There’s been a border in Ireland since the formation of the Irish Free State in 1920. What was later to become what is now known as Ireland, consists of 26 counties. It’s a separate independent country. The other six counties make up Northern Ireland, which form part of the United Kingdom.

So trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a big issue if there are different rules between the two constituent parts. The problem would be made worse by the total lack of any border controls. When “The Troubles” were at their height, there were border points, mainly manned by the military, on major transport routes. This was mainly aimed at ensuring would be terrorists couldn’t get in to the north from the south, and to prevent them from escaping to the south once they’d committed an atrocity.

There were also customs checks back in the day. Cross border smuggling was big business with petrol, booze, and cigarettes being top of the list of items smuggled. The problem was the border goes across some of the remotest parts of Ireland. There are hundreds of crossings, some little more than thin dirt tracks, making it virtually impossible to control. Logistically things haven’t changed. The military border points may have gone, but the myriad of border crossing remain. Should there be different trade rules between the two constituent parts of Ireland, it will equally difficult to police and enforce.

You can understand why all the talk is about trade, but there’s one aspect of the Irish border issue that gets very little coverage. Whisper this quietly; it’s the possibility of a united Ireland. This gets little media coverage because it’s a bigger problem than post Brexit border trade. The two topics are inextricably linked. If we want to remain part of the customs union, the European Union say we must be part of their club. Therefore if we want to leave, different trade rules apply. Neither Ireland or the UK want that.

No matter how unlikely that may seem, a united Ireland of 32 counties would solve the trade issue at one fell swoop. It would create a plethora of other seemingly intractable issues though. Logistical issues like what flag the country would use, or what national anthem they’d sing. The Irish government has stated that should a united Ireland ever come into existence, that nothing would be ruled out. Perhaps that’s more of a politician’s  answer, as they know that such small scale decisions are fraught with historical and jingoistic significance.

Agreeing to a united Ireland may be the easy part. Deciding on changing the wording of the Irish national anthem, agreeing on the colours and design of a flag, now there’s a discussion bound to bring out all the old arguments.