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Brexit: What would St. Patrick do?

Wednesday, 15 March, 2017

St. Patrick Background: St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain. Where exactly is a matter of debate. Claims have been made for England, Scotland and Wales as his birthplace. According to the Confession of St. Patrick, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates at the age of 16, enslaved and then held captive in Ireland for six years. Good Christian that he was, he forgave his captors and the Irish in general. He then set about converting them and his success rate was a remarkable 99.9%, it is said.

What Patrick could not do, however, was help the Irish to understand that they needed to stay on good terms with their neighbours in Britain. The Irish of the fifth century saw the “big island” as place to plunder or to dispose of their excess people and problems and little has changed since.

Foreground: The Republic of Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973 on the same day as the United Kingdom and this was no coincidence. Dublin depended greatly on food exports to the UK and being outside the EEC zone would have meant tariffs and quotas affecting its most important market. It was a pragmatic decision, therefore, but there was an element of romance as well in that many in the Irish establishment hoped that the deal would weaken the Anglo-Irish relationship in favour of Europe. And it all turned out for the best in the end. Ireland got lots of lovely subsidies from Brussels, local politicians upgraded to luxury junkets, inward investment from the USA flowed like champagne at Cheltenham and the benefits of Britain were untouched. Note: Irish citizens living in the UK are treated as British citizens in all but name.

St. Patrick But all this changed, utterly, with the Brexit vote. The cat is now among the doves, as peace-loving Patrick might have said. Once Article 50 is triggered by the UK government, Ireland will have to face the fact that it depends on the US and UK consumer so much that almost two-thirds of it goods and services will go to markets outside the remaining EU 27 members. Paddy is now confronted with the conundrum that while he’s commercially and culturally part of the Anglosphere, he’s told by his elites that he should feel closer to Brussels than Boston and it’s giving him headaches. Then, there are the bills.

In 2014, Ireland became a net contributor to the EU. Dublin paid €1.69 billion to Brussels and got €1.52 in return. After the UK leaves and the EU needs to pay those bills, Ireland will be expected to put more in the pot. Then there’s last year’s EU decision against Dublin’s cosy tax arrangement with Apple that could cost €13 billion. If all those giant US companies in Ireland are no longer able to dodge tax and if their companions in London are no longer able to ship their UK turnover across the Irish Sea to be taxed at a much lower Irish rate, the luck of the Irish might run out. But there’s more.

Much of Ireland’s exports are transported through British ports on the west coast, then across the mighty motorways that Paddy helped build before leaving British ports on the south and east coasts for EU destinations. When the UK is outside the Single Market and Customs Union there will be serious administrative and financial challenges to getting goods to their EU markets without quicker and cheaper alternative routes. And the combination of being outside the Schengen Agreement and the Common Travel Agreement means that the Britain’s borders will begin at Ireland’s ports and airports.

Tricky.

People scoffed recently when Lord Kilclooney wrote in the Belfast News Letter that Ireland needs to consider its positon in the EU, but his advice should not be dismissed so lightly. He concluded: “The two alternatives are for the Republic to get special status within the EU or for the Republic to exit the EU the same day as the UK — that would mean there would be no problems at the border and would eliminate the damage now being caused to the Southern Irish economy.”

Paddy doesn’t want to hear this, of course, but Saint Patrick would whisper in his ear what Louis MacNeice once said: “World is suddener than we fancy it.”

St. Patrick


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