Paul McNamee: The fairy folk aren’t buying this Brexit

Even with an innate openness to myth and legend, the Irish aren’t buying the story Boris Johnson is selling

There’s an issue with fairy trees in Ireland. Dotted across the landscape, north and south, you’ll see trees standing proud in the middle of fields. They’re frequently hawthorns – gnarly, old, with roots full of deep memories, a lovely blossom in spring, but woe betide if you mess with them.

Children growing up in Ireland would listen to parents as we passed the trees, about how farmers left them for fear of angering the fairy folk. You don’t want to mess with that mob. Perfectly rational people still retain a certain apprehension about fairy trees. It’s not so long ago that a motorway in County Clare was diverted to avoid cutting down a fairy tree.

There are a good number of these trees around the border and so I thought of them last week as Boris Johnson bounded over to Ireland. Even with an innate openness to myth and legend, the Irish aren’t buying the story he’s selling. They might believe in fairy folk, but Johnson’s pitch is beyond credulity.

At the very base of the problem of Brexit is the issue of the Irish border. When all else is stripped away, when all posturing about free ports and Project Fear is gone, this is it, this is the money. How can you keep the border open when one side will be in the EU, with its particular arrangements, and Northern Irish side, part of the UK, will be on the other, with its desire to be rid of the arrangements? This is impossible.

And despite Boris Johnson insisting he BELIEVES it can happen, that there is technology, that because of this technology there is no need for an insurance provision (the backstop), it doesn’t change the reality. Unless, of course, you’re a believer in the Build-It-And-They’ll-Come approach that has overtaken all our realities. It’s the Wayne’s World way of international arrangements. And that worked for a fictional character who
lived in his parents’ cellar, so, you know, what could go wrong!


There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

We live in a period of magic realism. At times it feels like a fable. That wise counsellors approach the ruler and warn that certain things will inevitably happen if a path is followed, and rather than listen to them, the ruler waves them away and says, ah, no, but on we go…

There is no argument that cuts through. The Bank of England warning of huge shocks to the economy in a No Deal situation; major retailers warning of food shortages; doctors warning of a life-damaging lack of proper medicines because they can’t be stockpiled.

We live in a period of magic realism. At times it feels like a fable

Instead, the language of wartime is evoked and masses of money is poured into damming the mess. A magic money tree is found.

This week in The Big Issue we cover the ongoing crisis around school holiday hunger. It is a horrible reality for hundreds of thousands of children. We reveal how smart investment running into just tens of thousands of pounds could really help get to grips with this. Instead, £2.1bn is moved to No Deal readiness. Good people and volunteers pick up the pieces.

And still the insistence that all will be fine once THE THING happens is the magnetic north for the government. The controls are set for the heart of Halloween.

Perhaps, in the end, the fairy trees will hold the answers. That’s as viable an option as any other doing the rounds.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue