Every year, political journalists find reasons to crowbar references to the Eurovision song contest into articles. This year should be no exception. Expect the Sunday papers to be filled with Brexit metaphors—especially Ireland’s failure to make it to the final, not least because Brendan Murray did not have British voters backing his efforts.
The competition features two semifinals and a grand final, which is held on May 13. Like many things European, the voting is unfair. The U.K. is one of five big countries that automatically qualify for the final because they give so much cash to the European Broadcast Union (EBU). So far, so good—for the British.
But being in the Big Five comes with a major drawback: U.K., Spain, Germany, France and Italy can only vote in one of the two semifinals. The British had their turn on Tuesday, but the Republic of Ireland entry was up on Thursday, and they failed to get through.
Unlike previous Irish entries, Brendan Murray did not have the benefit of British phone voters. The British have given the Irish more points than any other country in the competition, and the feeling appears to be mutual: the U.K. is the biggest recipient of the Republic’s support.
The phone voting is pretty biased, considering old allies back each other, but Ireland’s 55 million nearest neighbors were disenfranchised. This meant the U.K. had less influence over the result than tiny San Marino, which has 31,000 inhabitants.
The good people of Ireland must surely be thinking what it is like to be in a major European institution without having the U.K. to vote with them. After all, British muscle would easily have propelled Murray into the final. And who knows what the British twelve points in the final might have done for their chances of winning the whole competition.
Ireland without Britain in Europe appears to be a lonely, lonely place. There is no winning and no concessions—just a bag of nuts at the airport and an economy Ryanair flight back home.
Brexit will prove hard for Ireland. There are guarantees that the hard border will not return to Northern Ireland, but this will be cold comfort if tariffs are put in place on cross-border trade. The U.K. is Ireland’s biggest export market. Sealing it off would prove catastrophic for major companies based in Dublin, and it will be no fun for businesses in the Port of Liverpool either.
Ireland is a pro-European country so far, but it refused to join the Schengen Agreement to remove border controls across Europe. The reason for this was simple expediency: The British were not planning to join either. With Ireland outside Schengen, the U.K. was willing to maintain British Isles common travel area.
Perhaps expediency will lead to other hard choices in Ireland, maybe even leaving the E.U. completely. This does not look likely, but right now Ireland gets much more out of the E.U. than it puts in. With Britain leaving the E.U., every rich country is going to pay more tax, and Ireland will be no exception.
As ever in Europe, the British won’t be getting their way on Saturday: Russia has also gone. This is very bad news in London because Russia is traditionally booed by the crowd in the arena. Without Putin’s act, there is nothing to protect the British from the Brexit-induced fury from the camp of European liberals who gravitate to the competition.
If Lucy Jones for the U.K. gets booed, perhaps she can console herself with why Russia isn’t competing: Yulia Samoylova is accused of assisting with the invasion of the Ukraine. Specifically, she performed in Russian-occupied Crimea in 2015, thus breaking local immigration laws that still say you can only enter the province via Ukraine—despite that not really being possible anymore.
God bless Europe. It always gets political, doesn’t it?
Andre Walker is a lobby correspondent covering the work of the British Parliament and prime minister. Before studying journalism at the University of London he worked as a political staffer for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter @andrejpwalker