It was good to see Taoiseach Leo Varadkar getting animated about Brexit last week. His comments followed an earlier vocal warning from Agriculture Minister Michael Creed about the risks hanging over the agri-food sector from the EU-UK divorce process.
Although the EU has placed the North as a key issue in opening negotiations with Britain, it is not at all obvious the risks to overall trade between Ireland and the UK are being given a sufficiently voice. Polite, diplomatic language needs to be replaced with vigorous campaigning if the tough consequences of a hard Brexit are to be avoided in 2019.
There are signs of deep unease developing across various sectors of the UK economy at present and this is manifesting itself in sector-specific missions to Brussels. Last month, a group representing financial companies went to Brussels looking for assurances specific to their needs.
The pharmaceutical sector also made representations about the clear risks to their interests in Britain from Brexit. Energy companies, educational institutes and the car manufacturing industry are other examples of parties desperately trying to unpick the overall Brexit agenda for their own requirements. All of them have clearly been sent home with a thick ear.
The EU, to its credit, is adopting a transparent but singular approach to negotiating with the UK on behalf of the entire EU block. It is doing so with a phalanx of highly experienced and informed negotiators.
Against this the UK appears to have internal divisions, stretched resources and an opaque interpretation of what Brexit actually represents. This scenario creates a high risk that a chaotic result will ensue, leaving the UK with a hard exit that has an immediate impact on the country which has the highest dependence on Britain for trade — Ireland.
It is interesting to see the old Paddy playbook surfacing in the UK press after Mr Varadkar pointed out some obvious facts about the absence of clear thinking around Brexit consequences.
Instead of focusing on the details, there was a rush to question the impudence of Eire to wade into issues that a great nation like Britain was handling.
The irony in all this is Ireland probably has more empathy for Britain than the rest of the EU. We have a deep knowledge of daily life in the UK, share a profound if complex history with it and have no economic or cultural interest in causing harm.
But this is senior hurling. Ireland’s economic prosperity is being directly challenged by a political decision in which it had zero influence. The UK population has chosen to travel down a path that harms Ireland unless it finds a solution that involves no border and no exit from the customs union as a minimum. The vitriol from the Brexiteers will damage food, aviation, and financial services companies among others based in Ireland and in so doing will diminish the wealth of the overall economy.
This is why anyone who cares about Ireland needs to become more exercised about Brexit as we leave the summer of 2017 behind. Opposition parties should arguably be taking up an even more extreme stance to show the Government’s views are watered down versions of the mood in the country. Representative bodies need to find ways to express their growing anger at the nonchalance being shown in parts of the UK establishment to the collateral damage from Brexit.
We are presently enjoying a period of economic prosperity in Ireland but Brexit contains seeds that could deliver a poisonous harvest akin to the global financial crisis in 2008. Those with short and long memories know what effect that had.
A robust battle to avoid a repeat is both needed and justified.
Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.
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