So Brexit. The Tusk negotiations aren’t over yet, but there is a broad outline for a deal that changes the UK’s relationship with the EU. Sceptics say it is not enough. Yesterday’s YouGov poll puts the figure of those who want to leave where it needs to be if the Brexit campaign is to have any chance of success: leading 45% to 34% with 19% undecided.
There are of course serious concerns at the implications for British Irish relations, and that’s even before we consider Northern Ireland. Even with the Tusk deal there’s likely to be tensions. As Suzanne Lynch notes:
…anything that would enhance Britain’s competitiveness and damage the single market will be resisted by Ireland.
On Northern Ireland we simply don’t know the fuller implications. But the DUP with barely concealed haste seem to have already rushed to man the barricades to argue for a Brexit. Sinn Fein’s one UK MEP fired off this broadside even before the Tusk draft deal…
“We are not even on the consideration list of what happens if Brexit goes ahead.
“Theresa Villiers would not be interested in the sterling work that goes on with groups and organisations across West and North Belfast, that do their work on very small pots of money.
“What I get from her is that we make a net contribution to Europe and my response to that is I don’t give a damn. In terms of the north we are net beneficiary and the constituency I care about is my own.”
Paradoxically each may be praying that they don’t actually get the scenario they have publicly committed to. And they may not be alone in that dilemma. As the posh Tories around Cameron file in behind his pro EU position, so must the SNP in Scotland.
In fact the DUP locally and from a constituency point of view is fairly well served by taking up a position that almost no other mainstream party (ie, with more than one MP) in the UK has. It also denies Jim Allister (or UKIP) an easy hit on them during the Assembly elections.
As for the outcome, all hyperbole aside, a Brexit is likely to have far reaching consequences for Northern Ireland, though probably not on the catastrophizing scale that’s often more hinted at more than talked about.
Freedom of movement has continued under the historic bilateral arrangements of the Common Travel Area, and it is likely to remain the framework for any future negotiations. Peace funding in any case is already slowing and would not be cut off overnight.
Brexit would probably be most felt in indirect ways (which will probably make selling its positives tough for REMAIN). Progress towards a much talked about but little acted upon all island economy may prove harder to achieve without a common overarching framework.
Would it trigger a constitutional crisis if Scotland voted REMAIN and England voted LEAVE? It would certainly be awkward. Regardless of that protest letter from the regions’ First Minister, Cameron needs a quick referendum to give his English opponents little time to get organised.
It might boost the SNP (though it’s hard to see why they really need it). But considering a growing subvention and dropping profits for those oil companies at the forefront of North Sea exploration, Cameron’s timing may mitigate against a hasty tactical strike via an #IndyRef2.
Leaving the EU does not suit anyone in the regions over much since to some degree or another they all owe their rise to political prominence to the EU’s principle of subsidiarity. And leaving the UK for what could be by then a rather unstable EU might not be uppermost on anyone’s mind.
Bloody old Etonians… Having forced the Scottish Labour party to bust itself keeping Scotland inside the UK, Cameron now has a much stronger ally there to do its level best to keep the UK inside the EU. Not least since, paradoxically, it may be Scotland’s better hope of finally gaining independence.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty