UK election could be good for Ireland

Tough times lie ahead for Ireland with Brexit looming, but there is plenty to play for, writes Kyran Fitzgerald, and our government will have to play a vital role in the negotiations

SO ONCE again, British voters had given the political establishment a resounding kick in the backside.

Sterling and bank stocks in particular were hard hit by a result which leaves most people scratching their heads.

This is not good news for companies and entrepreneurs reliant on UK export business, particularly those by the border or for those in the hospitality sector depending on British travellers.

But prospects for the longer term in Ireland may just have improved considerably. Our nearest neighbour may not after all be getting ready to charge over a hard Brexit cliff.

For it seems clear is that British voters have rejected the blinkered bulldog vision put forward by Tory party strategists, short sighted people obsessed with targeting the votes of Ukip supporters.

Even before the votes were counted, the campaign had dealt a blow to the authority of the prime minister, Theresa May, who ran a miserable campaign, wobbling as she did on policy issues like a fruit jelly.

Younger, more educated voters have discovered their voice and we now know there is a market both for pro-Europe and anti-austerity politics.

The main loser Jeremy Corbyn is also the real winner — along with the pragmatic centrist, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

The Corbyn team and its Momentum-led activist wing have played a blinder whatever one thinks of a manifesto which amounted to an exercise in naked vote buying.

Labour has shown that it is possible to campaign from the hard left and centre at the same time, using social media and pavement pounding in equal measure.

In the short term, we in these islands face huge uncertainty with the separation talks between the UK and the rest of the EU due to begin in a week’s time.

In this hung British parliament, a revitalised DUP finds itself in pole position. Will it display wisdom and concentrating on seeking a special deal for Northern Ireland on future relations with the EU as well as the usual barrel of goodies, or will it push a narrower vision?

We are depending on people like Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds to show political nous and statesmanship. We shall see.

EU negotiators too need to take stock.

Article 50 has been triggered so the clock is ticking.

There are budgetary pressures on them as a result of Brexit. The temptation to press for heavy up-front payments from the UK is considerable. Such temptation must be resisted as the bigger prize of a continued UK presence in the single market looks to be in prospect.

Mr Barnier and his team of negotiators need to show wisdom. Some flexibility in the area of freedom of movement of labour needs to be shown to give space to the incoming administration.

EU leaders must give the British space and time in which to negotiate a delicate retreat from rigid positions adopted allowing for continued UK membership of the customs union, if not the single market.

If that is achieved, we will all have dodged a big economic bullet.

The Irish government could have a vital role to play in this regard.

It may also be worthwhile engaging some of the highly talented government officials from UK, Ireland and beyond in back channel communications.

One hopes that certain nations (France?) avoid a temptation to be triumphalist in the wake of this result.

As the negotiations begin, it is worth noting that the cost of Brexit is already being felt, not just by people engaged in trade and business but also by individuals.

Take the legal world.

The dislocation here is potentially enormous, even if Dublin is already benefiting from legal and banking related investment.

Writing in the Law Society Gazette last month, Dublin family specialist Keith Walsh issued this stark warning: “We are entering a time of uncertainty in international family law.

“Once Britain actually leaves the EU, the practice of family law between Britain and Ireland will become more complicated and expensive.”

He adds that delays appear likely, with currently straightforward issues turning into protracted “pre-litigation litigation”.

He points out that particular fears are being expressed by lawyers on circuits adjacent to the border with Northern Ireland.

According to Mr Walsh, while Britain may decide to automatically recognise EU orders post-Brexit, there is no guarantee that the EU will recognise orders made in Britain.

in his view, “it appears inevitable that recognition and enforcement of orders between Britain and Ireland will become more difficult post Brexit”.

This broader point has also been addressed by competition law expert, Vincent Power, a senior partner with solicitors, A & L Goodbody.

He has pointed out that litigation has been streamlined across the European Union. “It is now easier to have a judgement in one member state enforced in another.”

This progress — so vital to individuals and businesses alike— is now under threat.

Vincent Power warns that businesses face added compliance costs as over time EU and British laws start to diverge.

Take competition law. Currently, firms involved in mergers with impact on trade between member states deal with one set of rules. Following Brexit, however, there a “doubling up in regulations, regimes, penalties” is on the cards.

Companies which currently avail of preliminary EU reference procedures may no longer be able to do so.

Over time, as UK law and jurisprudence begins to diverge, people operating there may have to deal with legal issues that erupt like “unexploded mines”.

With Britain departing, Ireland is set to be left as the sole common law country within the EU — with the possible exception of Malta.

We will no longer be able to fall back on a British “wall of influence” operating to block the greater excesses of continental bureaucrats and lawmakers, coming as they do from a rather less pragmatic legal tradition.

However, a deal in which a departing UK retains access to the single market while recognising decisions of the European Court of Justice could address many of these well founded legal concerns.

The next few months could be fascinating.

There is all to play for even if a political impasse in the UK is already bringing short-term pain in the form of a drop in the value of sterling and uncertainty for investors.

The threat of a complete rupture between the UK and the rest of the EU appears to have lessened due to the rise in voter participation on the part of the young.

However, there are plenty of sharp obstacles ahead.

To use golfing parlance, the ball is still in the rough, but it now looks to have a better lie.

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