Brexit and Ireland


The European Union’s earliest conception, the ECSC ( European Coal and Steel Community) was designed as a way to interlink the participating nations’ economies to such a degree that the devastating conflicts that marked the first half of the 21st century would be not just impossible but inconceivable.   

“Federalisation by stealth” was a perpetual march with the creation of the EU and a continued entanglement of European economies and politics until last month’s UK referendum, when at least the English, Welsh and Elderly decided that the UK would be stronger alone.

Despite a turbulent relationship perhaps no nations within the EU have stronger trading and political links than the UK and the Republic of Ireland. 

As the dominoes fall following Brexit, the consequences for Ireland are unpredictable but, unless defied by the plodding and staid nature of Brussels Bureaucracy, they will be dramatic.

Speaking the same language only with wildly different accents the British and Irish are more alike than either group would like to freely admit. Several boroughs within England contain more Irish than Dublin such as Kilburn of London and Liverpool is essentially an Irish colony. Despite the influx of immigrants to Ireland during the boom years, the British have always been the second biggest ethnic group. It’s only due to political tensions they have remained a silent presence. St. George’s day isn’t mentioned let alone celebrated and the chippers are Italian rather than British.

Economically the two are as entwined. Ireland’s membership of the EEC couldn’t even be considered until obstructionist De Gaulle resigned and the UK was able to join. According to Irish Times €1.2billion in trade takes place between the two each and every week. With 400,000 jobs directly reliant on this back and forth of goods and services.

How the Brexit will affect this symbiotic relationship is yet to be known, but uncertainty is itself anathema to economics. Ireland and the UK will not be able to come to a bilateral agreement, Ireland will have to negotiate jointly along with the rest of the EU. Nor is it known what will happen to those residing outside their country and the fate of their jobs and studies. 

Economically Ireland could theoretically come out ahead. Ireland is now an extremely attractive option for the financial sector that historically generated vast wealth within the City of London. Similarly as the only remaining English speaking country in the EU and with a highly educated workforce, Ireland may entice away the American corporations currently headquartered within the UK. 

Inexorably economics is a two-sided coin and Brexit could negatively impact on the corporations currently residing in Ireland. Historically they’ve been attracted by Ireland’s rock bottom corporate tax rate. The EU has long wanted to homogenise this tax bracket but has been foiled by strong resistance from the UK.  Without such an ally the Irish government may eventually be forced to submit and in all likelihood lose the investment from Intel, Pfizer, Google, Facebook and others that prop up much of a recently bruised and battered economy.  

These are important matters, but there is an issue that is pitched high beyond mere money or movement and may be a matter of life or death. That is of course the question of Northern Ireland and the future of the brittle peace that has so recently descended upon that part of the world.    

30 years of brutal bombing and relentless murder has shimmered to a precarious truce and an optimistic power-sharing political structure. Brexit may strain this peace that has already been frayed by the increasing isolation of the Unionist population from Westminster, the 2012 Flag Riots were a pointed precursor to the dangers of this community’s increased uncertainty of their place within the Union. Nor would a degradation of the gradual improvement of trade and business contact between North and South be accommodating to continued stability and more cordial relations.

The peace process in Northern Ireland receives massive funding from the EU and Brexit will mean that a planned €500 million investment to improve the economic circumstances of the region and inter-community projects will not the follow the €1.3billion the EU has already spent since 1995 to support peace.

Though UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that a “hard” border will not be reconstructed it is hard to see how she will keep this pledge if the EU takes a hard line with a reprimanded UK. For Republicans the current border region with its abandoned watch towers is a visceral and sad reminder of a difficult time, but cause for optimism. A physical check point manned by soldiers seen to be tools of a foreign occupier will summon hotter emotions than regret, a divided island will make for a divided people. Some will be more than willing to once again bear arms and kill to rectify it.       

There has been talk that Brexit could be a step towards a united Ireland, as the population of Northern Ireland voted firmly against it and are now applying in record numbers for an Irish passport that retains the rights of EU citizenry. This seems like a pipe-dream from this side of history, but then again a divided Ireland wasn’t ever conceived until early in the last century and very quickly came about. But based on historical precedent no border changes will arrive without loss of life.

In a globalized and interlinked world all domestic decisions have international consequences. It was a political blunder for former PM Cameron to allow such a momentous and far reaching decision to be distilled to yes or no. 

Ireland will be drastically impacted when Brexit comes into play; if the implications will be positive or negative will be for time to tell when at the end of Boris’s blundering the shape of Brexit is revealed. For now the close ties of Europe resemble more a house of cards than the iron of the Eiffel tower.


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