Despite this week’s visit to Dublin by British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, it seems that the Irish Government and business community is still in the dark about what exactly the plans for Brexit are and about its impact on Ireland.
Speaking to the Irish national TV station, RTE, Mr Hammond defended Britain’s handling of the negotiations and said that they are preparing for Article 50 to be activated later in the spring. “Just because we have not laid out as much information as our negotiating counterparts would perhaps like us to have done doesn’t say anything of the sort,” he said. Mr Hammond went on to explain that Britain has a Government that is in no doubt about how it wants to handle its own borders and laws while being successfully able to arrange a deal with the European Union that will be beneficial for both sides.
“We think it’s much better to start with the objectives – what we want to achieve at the end, recognise that there are political red lines on both sides and then look at how best we can structure a solution which delivers those objectives within the political red lines that both sides face.”
Mr Hammond met with Irish financial minister, Michael Noonan and they discussed possible outcomes of the Brexit situation, but nothing of any substance seems to have come out the meeting. Mr Noonan did say, however, that he believed that both sides are setting out stalls a bit too early in his opinion. He went on to say that he was confident that a compromise will have to be reached that will be suited to both sides, but that Britain needs to understand that Brexit is more than just an economical issue for the EU and that the UK shouldn’t get its hopes up too high.
“I don’t think the UK are going to get what they are looking for,” he said. “It’s a question of a negotiation where a compromise is arrived at which suits both sides, but it’s not going to be anyone getting what they are looking for. And at the end of the day, it is the UK that has decided to leave the European Union, so the ball is in their court initially.”
Mr Hammond yesterday issued a statement where he said that “the unique relationship between Ireland and the UK has never been more important or as complex. Trade between our two countries benefits each nation enormously and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, so it is in everyone’s interest to build upon our strong ties.”
However, fears are growing of an economical backlash in Ireland. Jobs and industries have already been affected with some retail sections such as automobile sales already offering discounts in preparation of a possible slump. Ireland will be affected by Brexit more than any of the other EU member states. Just how much is unknown, but there is no doubt that there will be a negative impact on some level. Regardless of what is believed in Brussels, Ireland and Britain are almost joined at the hip both socially and economically with trade between both states in the region of twenty seven billion in 2015. Immigration between both states has steadily risen in the last twenty years with the number of Irish immigrants believed to be in the hundreds of thousands since the 1950s while Ireland can count in the region of 100,000 British in 2011.
The question is: just what is Ireland’s position in the Brexit negotiations? Should it be playing a part of ‘honest broker’ or will it, as European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan suggested this week, be taking a step back from the Brexit negotiations? Mr Hogan said that “there is a real risk that Ireland could allow our relationship with Europe to be defined by our relationship with the United Kingdom, which would be an enormous mistake in my view. Instead we should have the confidence and direction to recognise that post-Brexit Ireland will need to have in place a wholly different set of relationships with our EU partners – relationships which we will forge, advocate, defend and address directly and out of the shadow of our nearest neighbour.”
I’m not so sure, however, that taking a hands off approach to this would be beneficial. Leaving what is potentially a massive social and economic upheaval in Ireland to a team from Brussels could be a disaster waiting to happen. Irish interests must be given the full attention that it requires. We cannot be allowed to become a potential province of Britain when it comes to border control. But at the same time, we should not be expected to cut ties completely from Britain and thus isolate ourselves in the process.
It really looks like a case of good cop bad cop with Ireland possibly playing the role of the former inside the interview room, but very much in the EU’s corner outside. A fine balance indeed and it will be something that will need our most skilled negotiators involved.
Does a certain former North Dublin Taoiseach spring to mind?