“We’re living in cloud cuckoo land,” Lord Chris Patten told Sean O’Rourke, ahead of his Ivy House lecture on Ireland, Britain and the challenge of nationalism. His experience as a member of the British Cabinet, as Junior Minister of Stormont and as Chair of the Policing Commission of Northern Ireland gives him ample insight into the practical implications of Brexit on the ground.
“It is the biggest political calamity domestically of my life and I think we must do everything we can to soften its impact… I feel a great responsibility to the next generation, to my kids, to my grandchildren who’ll have to live with the consequences.”
When it comes to the contentious issue of an Irish border, Lord Patten said that a simple resolution is the stuff of fairy tales.
“If you’re not in the Customs Union, if you’re not in a market where there’s broadly speaking alignment of regulations, then you have to have a border… People claim that there is some magical technological solution. Trouble is, it doesn’t yet exist and is unlikely to exist. The US/Canada doesn’t provide any answers. Norway and Sweden doesn’t provide an answer. Perhaps they have in mind fairies or little green men. It’s increasingly the case that we find that we’re living in a sort of a world where it’s like one of those nightmares. The walls of the room close in on you and the walls of the room are reality and people are refusing to face up to that.”
Lord Patten will be addressing these and other issues in his lecture but whichever way you slice it, he stresses the outlook is bleak and that Brexit is ultimately and undeniably a “terrible act of self harm.”
“I’ve never quoted the Luxembourg Prime Minister before but he said we were previously in the European Union with lots of opt-outs. Now we want to be outside the European Union with as many opt-ins as we can get on the back of a lorry. It just doesn’t make sense and we can’t expect European countries to risk the fundamental integrity of the single market, of their free trade area, in order to try to accommodate the political whims of the right wing in Britain.”
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