We need to make a Plan B for a Brexit - Appalling vista a reality

THE late Lord Denning, one of Britain’s most senior judges, will always be remembered in Ireland for his dismissal of a civil action by the Birmingham Six against West Midlands Police in 1980, because, to accept their case that officers had lied about their confessions and beaten them would have opened up “an appalling vista”.

On their release, he had to admit he was wrong but the damage had already been done.

Let us hope it is not the same with the so-called Brexit — the growing prospect that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. In view of their head-in-the-sand approach, neither the Irish Government and Opposition nor the European Commission has given a British exit from the union any serious consideration, demonstrably unwilling to countenance such an appalling vista.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted last week that the Government had no plan in place should the UK vote to leave the European Union next June.

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is taking an equally blinkered approach, insisting that he has “no plan B” for a Brexit, because he does not believe it will happen. He said he was unwilling to “envisage seriously” a vote to leave the union.

Their refusal to entertain such a possibility would be laughable if the consequences were not so serious. Whether Kenny or Juncker believe it will happen or not is beside the point because neither of them will have any say in it. The decision to stay or go is a matter to be decided by the British people in a referendum next June.

Prime Minister David Cameron is betting his own political future and the future of his country on his ability to coax the British people to vote Yes but, considering the latest polls, they could just as easily vote No.

Leading the charge against continued membership is London Mayor Boris Johnson, a wily politician with his eye on No 10.

The latest polls which show the two sides are neck-and-neck have already had an impact on Britain, with sterling falling to a seven-year low against the dollar.

If the British vote No in the summer it will have enormous implications for Ireland and for the EU as a whole. The most visible sign for us would be the return to border controls between here and Northern Ireland, but the most fundamental effect would be felt in the economy, north and south.

It would have immediate implications for the North. The combined financial loss of EU investment, subsidies and funds has been put at around £3.5 billion.

But we would not be immune, either. Late last year, the Economic and Social Research Institute suggested that one-fifth of Anglo-Irish trade could be at risk in the event of a Brexit. Other analysts forecast that we would lose up to 3% of GDP.

That means we need a Plan B and, perhaps, a Plan C and D. A Brexit may be an appalling vista but it is something we need to be prepared for.

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