Government already looks to be losing Brexit PR battle

As he spoke to reporters at Dublin Castle during the week, the Minister for Finance said something odd about Brexit.

Government already looks to be losing Brexit PR battle

“From an Irish point of view, the initial shock has been contained,” he said. “There is no sense of panic.”

What did Michael Noonan mean exactly?

That those trading the Irish stock market had responded in a measured fashion? Because clearly that hadn’t been the case.

That currency markets were smoothly correcting the exchange rate between the euro and sterling? Obviously not.

The pound was plunging to new lows against the euro — obliterating the competitive advantage of Irish exporters and those in our tourism industry.

That the interest rate on Irish debt was stable?

In fact, it was dropping as panicked investors sought the warm embrace of ECB-guaranteed euro-debt.

What Mr Noonan was hoping to do was, I suspect, project his own serene calm before the watching Irish public.

That’s the rub.

The immediate worry for the Government and the exchequer is whether Brexit has inflicted grievous psychological trauma on the Irish consumer.

Will they recoil from the excited commentary of recent weeks, resigned to spend less, worry more?

After all, the ESRI had told them that trade between Ireland and Britain might collapse by 20%. The Taoiseach had warned that border controls could return.

The Summer Economic Statement — published just two days before the referendum — made passing reference to a potential loss of €3bn in Irish national income.

Of course, all of the above was thrown about in those care-free, halcyon days when nobody actually thought the Brits would be bonkers enough to go ahead and do it.

The people on Merrion Square now nervously scanning the economic data as it rolls in, will have twitched as the Vat figure for the first half of the year came up short — €231m below the assumption made by the conservative number crunchers at the Department of Finance.

They may have experienced an involuntary facial movement as Investec’s Purchasing Managers’ Index showed business expectations here had fallen significantly in the run-up to the Brexit vote.

Such surveys, along with the CSO’s testing of consumer confidence this month, will provide a better insight when published in August.

There will undoubtedly be real economic effects from what has happened to the pound.

As Bord Bia assembled Ireland’s food producers in Ballsbridge on Wednesday, the barely suppressed anxiety in the room was palpable, as they discussed how their margins had been wiped away in the space of a fortnight.

The old Dublin road into Newry could soon be clogged again with southern shoppers.

The English Market may not echo quite so audibly to the sound of English accents. As for the Irish consumer — let’s just see whether they bought the pre-Brexit hype.

They understand that border posts are by no means inevitable. They question whether trade between the two islands will simply disappear like snow off a ditch.

The state of Cork football accounts for more pub talk than abstract warnings about GDP. And they don’t spend a lot of their time talking about football in Cork.

Yes — confidence matters. And one of the things that helps to buttress confidence is the perception that those with their hand on the tiller know where they’re going.

It was unfortunate then that the abortive All-Ireland ‘Brexit forum’ descended so quickly into farce.

The DUP, the only significant party on the island that actually wanted a British withdrawal from Europe, were always going to stay away — and the forum would have been nothing more than a talking shop.

That somebody in Dublin hadn’t twigged this was surprising. Alarming even.

With the mother of all negotiations looming between the EU and Britain, the way in which the Taoiseach’s proposal unravelled did little to inspire faith.

What did they make of it in the border counties of Louth and Monaghan?

Voters showed themselves to be a discerning bunch back in February. They knew that the simple talk of keeping the recovery going was over-stated. The emphasis by certain parties on tax cuts above all else — was met with a much more nuanced demand from the Irish electorate.

The coalition may hope that the public have again taken such a sceptical approach to the more cataclysmic forecasts made by officialdom just a few short weeks ago — and that they ignore the political fumblings of recent days.

  • Paul Colgan is economics editor with UTV Ireland

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