DANIEL MCCONNELL: Ireland caught in the crossfire in Brexit aftermath

Picture: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

The significance of Britain’s exit has yet to be seen but the implications for our country will be immense, writes Daniel McConnell

THE sun has risen but darkness falls.

Divorce is rarely a pleasant experience and the kids always suffer most. In the grand divorce of Britain and the rest of Europe, it will be Ireland which is impacted most by the decision of the British people to leave the EU.

“The ones actually who stand to lose most ironically are not the British, but the Irish,” according to former British Conservative MP Edwina Currie yesterday.

The significance of the decision to exit the EU by a ratio of 52% to 48% will not become immediately clear, but there is no doubt the implications for Ireland are immense.

It was right that an emergency Cabinet meeting took place here in Dublin yesterday in the wake of the result being confirmed — and the Dáil will sit on Monday especially to debate the crisis.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his ministers who campaigned vigorously for Britain to remain, have a lot of soul-searching to do.

“I want to assure the Irish public that we have prepared to the greatest extent possible for this eventuality. There will be no immediate change to the free flow of people, goods and services between our islands,” he said at a hastily-arranged press conference.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster speaking at Stormont Castle yesterday on the Brexit vote in the European Union Referendum on membership of the EU.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster speaking at Stormont Castle yesterday on the Brexit vote in the European Union Referendum on membership of the EU.

Plunged into a new era of uncertainty, Currie is absolutely right to say Ireland stands to lose considerably. By the mere fact of Britain’s decision to leave, Ireland will stand diminished at EU level. We have lost our closest neighbour in the club of Europe and without them our voice at the table immediately becomes more marginalised.

“I think we will have to have a new deal with Britain and a new deal with the EU,” said Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes yesterday, referring to the grave uncertainty that now hangs over us.

Former taoiseach John Bruton took a more bullish attitude, saying it is now time for us to “let them go” and look after ourselves: “The British have made their decision, let them go. It is time to look after our own interests.”

The sad reality of the result is that having just emerged from the eight-year financial crisis, we are now consumed again by a fresh crisis as to our standing at European level.

Given the decision, there is an inevitable reality that a scorned Europe will have to punish Britain for leaving, primarily to discourage any other itchy members from thinking of following suit.

The beginnings of the break-up emerged yesterday as EU Commission president Jean Claude Juncker told Britain to “get out, and get out fast”. He said they want to negotiate its exit plan “as soon as possible, however painful this process will be”.

After a shaky start to his speech as shockwaves reverberate around Brussels, the Eurocrat said: “Personally I am very sad about this decision but of course we have to respect it. This is an unprecedented situation, but we are united in our response.”

French President François Hollande also said Paris wants the Britain to start its exit package negotiations with the EU “as soon as possible”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her “great regret” after Britain’s historic decision and urged for “calm”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media following the result. Picture: Carsten Koall/Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media following the result. Picture: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Those also have to make it clear to Britain that having decided to leave, Britain cannot expect to enjoy the benefits of the EU club — and negotiations on trade deals are now about to commence.

The great fear is little old Ireland will get walloped in the crossfire. We have deep scars as to how we were treated by Europe during the financial crash, which has fed much of the scepticism in the political establishment in this country and in Europe.

The socialisation of scores of billions of toxic bank debt and the deep resistance from the European Central Bank (ECB) to Irish Government demands to burn bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank only furthered that cynicism. The legacy of that cynicism took its toll on Fine Gael and Labour here and led us into the realm of minority government for the foreseeable future. Enda Kenny spoke about the strong bonds of that Union and how Ireland stands to benefit from them, but such claims ring somewhat hollow given what we have been through.

He said we will take “some breathing space” to consider the verdict. Given that recent trauma, it has been made very clear that Ireland’s needs come way down the pecking order and if those needs conflict with the views of Germany and France, well we know how that will go.

But back to the deal that Brian Hayes now says is necessary, having conceded that Brexit will knock €3bn off our fiscal space. That is €3bn less to spend on new classrooms, teachers, nurses, doctors, roads, or gardaí.

Just how can we be spared the impact of Europe’s isolation of Britain while we remain within the fold? Just what will happen to the border between the two Irish states on this island? Are we looking at the breakup of the United Kingdom as we know it, given renewed calls in Scotland for a second independence referendum?

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness speak during a press conference outside Stormont Castle in Belfast, yesterday. Picture: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness speak during a press conference outside Stormont Castle in Belfast, yesterday. Picture: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian aptly described the events of yesterday morning in pithy headline: ‘Financial chaos, economic crisis, the likely breakaway of Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland: quite the morning’s work for the Bullingdon Club’.

The reference to the elitist all-male club at Oxford University of which both David Cameron and Boris Johnson were members does bring into light the future of the now outgoing prime minister and the man who has long harboured ambitions to replace him.

In a most dignified and honourable resignation speech, in which he became visibly emotional, Cameron said a new captain is needed to steer the ship into these new waters:

“I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.

“This is not a decision I’ve taken lightly but I do believe it’s in the national interest to have a period of stability and then the new leadership required.”

Moving forward, as we stand to lose most, Ireland must now make sure it is central to any discussions between Britian and the EU as to what form the break-up will take.

If we do not, we must then consider our own position within Europe.

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