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A Full English Brexit


A Full English Brexit

It’s been almost two months since the British voted to leave the European Union (EU) and finally, the dust is starting to settle. There’s no getting around the fact that Brexit is a major setback for the European project. When the result was announced, the EU initially wanted the British to get out as soon as they could, then wisely backed away from that stance. Britain won’t be going anywhere soon. This is good news here in Ireland as we have a complicated relationship with our closest neighbour. Any kneejerk reaction from Europe could have had a detrimental effect for Ireland, both north and south.

Britain has always had an uneasy relationship with the European Union. In fact, this is the second referendum they’ve had concerning whether they should stay or go. Back in 1975, the remain campaign won a resounding victory with 67% of the vote; the decision to stay in the then European Economic Community (EEC) was made. Even so, the relationship between the two always seemed troubled. The British tabloid media, over the years, has painted the EU as overly bureaucratic and a drain on the taxpayer. More recently there has been some opposition to migrants from the EU, particularly those from Eastern Europe.

In 2013, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron announced that there would be a referendum on their membership of the EU. It was a gamble designed to silence Conservative Eurosceptics, who would be fronted by Boris Johnson in the future Brexit debates, and also to stifle the growth of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) led by the charismatic Nigel Farage. In the 2015 General election, UKIP received almost four million votes, yet only won one seat due to the ‘first past the post’ system of voting use in Britain. If proportional representation was in play in this instance, UKIP would have won 82 seats out of 650. The British political landscape would be changed utterly.

Then it happened: on June 23rd – despite the forecasts of the pollsters and big business – the British decided to say goodbye to the European Union by a majority of well over one million voters. The next day David Cameron announced his resignation, Boris Johnson was booed as he left his house and Nigel Farage was accused of lying and scaremongering during a television interview. The markets went into meltdown and the price of Sterling began to fall rapidly – 8% in one day. The Scottish Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon pointed to the fact that majority of Scotland voted to remain and that she would look for a second independence referendum.

Back in Ireland, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appealed for calm. He said that he respected the rights of the British people. He knows that Brexit will have huge ramifications for the Republic of Ireland. The loss of our biggest trading partner could have potentially disastrous consequences for our economy. Most industries will feel the effect of Brexit but our agri-food industry could be adversely affected. We supply the United Kingdom with a huge amount of foodstuff – 52% of our beef, 60% of cheese exports and 84% of poultry. The Republic will have to will have to find new ways to do business – the trouble is that the EU forbids bilateral agreements.

In order for Brexit to actually happen, Britain has to invoke what is known as ‘Article 50’. This happens when a formal request to leave the EU is made. When this happens, the clock starts ticking; Britain has just two years to get its house in order and negotiate an amicable settlement with Europe. No matter what happens, Britain will always be doing business with Europe and there will be a continuous flow of people between the two. However, there’s one issue that could have a huge effect on us here in the Republic – the question of what happens to the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Who knows how long it’s going to take, but when the British finally do leave Europe, we will find ourselves sharing a border with a non-EU country. In this situation, the done thing to do is to set up a ‘hard border’, where fences are erected and patrolled by the Army. Checkpoints are set up at all road crossings, where traffic will be stopped and searched and passports will have to be produced. Of course, this is never going to happen. The border was scrapped under the terms of the Good FridayAgreement in 1998. Plus, the majority of those in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.

Nobody wants a border, particularly the thousands of people commute everyday. It’s just too impractical and would be seen as a huge step backwards. Any attempt to reinstall one will be met with the fiercest of opposition. There still will have to be provisions made for the policing of EU and non EU migrants. One solution would be to establish border controls at all sea ports.  There were fears that the fall in the value of Sterling would trigger a cross border shopping boom have been largely unfounded. There has been a modest increase in traffic heading north in search of value but for most if us, the cost of getting there would negate any benefits.

The truth is that nothing is going to change in the next couple of years, not until Britain activates Article 50. This gives all sides time to consider what to do next. Ireland, North and South will have to ensure that the relative peace and stability enjoyed over the past 20 years is not threatened by Brexit. The British need to stop treating Northern Ireland and the border question as some kind of afterthought. They also need to realise that Brexit was a victory for English nationalists and a largely ignorant older generation. The European Union needs to step back and let Ireland and Britain negotiate trade deals independently. If the EU tries to flex its muscles on this issue, the calls for Ireland to follow Britain out of Europe will become louder and harder to ignore.

One Response

  1. Patrick Coyne says:

    As one of the largely ignorant older generation who voted to leave the EU. I feel there is a need to clarify why we voted out. The shear amount of immigration was causing massive changes in our society that we didn’t like or need. Whole towns where being changed in a matter of months from being English to something we never wanted. The poorer English people were having the work they had done for years taken away from them. Anyone who said they were concerned about these changes was called racist by the libral elite. So when we were given the chance we voted out. I was so proud of the ordinary people who refused to be persuaded by the politicians and media types like the author of this article who thought we were muppets incapable of independent thought. We got our country back, we won get used to it.

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