Winter is coming, so is Brexit

In a previous life, I served for two years as a member of the EU’s Committee of the Regions, a small EU institution that looks at European legislation from the point of view of local and regional government. As a member of Fine Gael, I sat on this body in the European People’s Party (EPP), similar to Fine Gael’s MEPs in the European Parliament. A centre right grouping born out of the old Christian Democrats, the EPP is relatively unique in having no British members.

During my two years on the Committee of the Regions, I found myself often a lone voice in the EPP raising concerns about the then looming possibility of Brexit and what a disaster this could be for Europe. I was shocked to find the reaction of most of my colleagues was one of general disinterest, if not worse, an appetite to see the UK leave; as many believers in the European dream had become tired of the UK’s constant demands and Euro-scepticism.
For us in Ireland, Brexit is a very big deal. Our history is interwoven with that of the UK and we share deep connections in terms of history, culture, economics and much more. 800,000 Irish people live in the UK, 320,000 UK citizens live in the Republic of Ireland and of course 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland are eligible for UK and/or Irish citizenship.

Oireachtas Meembers meeting with their UK counterparts on the House of Lords EU Affairs Select Committee

The decision of the people of the UK to leave the EU will impact greatly on Ireland and this impact will be predominantly negative especially as we seek to redefine a relationship that has been normalised through common membership of the EU.

For the rest of the EU, this is an issue that is of decreasing importance, depending on where you go. Traditionally the Dutch, Belgians and Danes have had moderately close ties with the UK while as fellow G8 members, the French and the Germans also have a very close relationship. In the case of Spain, over one million British citizens currently reside in Spain and many more visit every year as tourists.

After that the levels of the interaction with the UK begin to decrease rapidly with notable, historic, exceptions in the form of Cyprus and Malta. Put simply, the level of Croatian or Romanian economic, social and cultural exchange with the UK is minimal at best. In the case of Poland, many of their leaders were understandably irked to see the caricature of the “Polish Plumber”, incorrectly, used as a tool of the Leave campaign as an example of immigration negatively impacting upon the British economy.

In recent weeks, I have had reason to visit Brussels on a number of occasions to attend various meetings and functions thanks to my role as Government spokesman on EU Affairs in Seanad Éireann. I used these occasions to feel the pulse of the “Brussels Bubble” on all things Brexit.

I was disappointed to find out that the existing indifference, in many cases, has turned to bitterness and thoughts of vengeance. I found very little appetite amongst EU officials, politicians or those working in the bubble to give the UK any kind of a benevolent deal or to allow for a soft Brexit, this matter not helped by Prime Minister May’s arrogant declaration that Brexit means Brexit at the Conservative Party Conference.

A number of Eurocrats that I spoke to insisted that the best situation is for the UK to remain as part of the EU and in order to achieve that, the remaining EU needed to negotiate so tough a deal that the UK would have no choice but to change their mind, ignore the referendum result and decide to remain in the EU.
It is quite clear to me that Brexit does indeed mean Brexit and that the UK Government will agree any deal; determined to go it alone amid a confused notion that the UK, free of European shackles, will return to a dominant position in the world.

Unfortunately for little old Ireland, the UK leaving the EU with a terrible deal will be an absolute disaster, hurting our existing relationships and brutalising our economic standing. The UK has voted to leave, Ireland needs to fight that the new relationship doesn’t kill off all future dealings. I agree that the UK cannot have a better deal outside the EU than inside but it does not have to be a vengeful arrangement, we cannot prevent Brexit through tough negotiations.

Winter is coming, so is Brexit.

Based in Dublin Rathdown, Senator Neale Richmond is the Government spokesman on EU Affairs in Seanad Éireann.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Watched Sammy Wilson and Tom Elliot last night on UTV, both are utterly clueless.

    Sammy thinks getting any sort of protection for the borders of the present is effectively a threat to the union.

    Tom Elliot thinks Brexit is just a devaluation in the pound that Mark Carney could have done anyway.

    If there was any sign that Northern Ireland is in fact smarter than its own politicans it’s the fact that they voted Remain while half their MPs still backed the Leave lies and far right fantasies of Brexit.

    It comes back to the attitude of David Trimble, Northern Ireland is such a small part of the UK its problems don’t matter.

  • Smithborough

    Good piece. Brexiteers vs Remoaners rerunning the same tedious referendum arguments and throwing the same timeworn insults gets us nowhere in looking at the future.

    We’re in a divorce situation. We can make it acrimonious or we can try to calm things down.

    Hard Brexit is the most likely option if things continue as they are going. This will be a disaster for Ireland, North & South. On the other hand, blocking Brexit on legal technicalities will be a disaster for all of Europe; nothing says out of touch elite as relying on the judiciary when you lose an election.

    We need to look at both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as veey large exclaves and try to sort out arrangements from there. Both need North/South trade, RoI needs at very least free transit of good through UK & preferably free access to UK market. We also need passport free travel, even if this means Ireland remaining outside of Schengen post-Brexit.

    Some of these things should be achievable, but not on the basis of denying that problems exist (Leavers) or denying the referendum result (Remainers).

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think the court cases have basically ensured that the UK has been forced to do things by its own democratic rule-book and has annoyed the pants out of control freaks in the government whichever side they were on the referendum.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “The committee found Northern Ireland’s economy was already characterised by the “highest levels of deprivation, unemployment and poverty” and while Ireland might be well placed to respond to the economic challenges in its path, Northern Ireland was not. In the agri-food sector, £700m of the annual £1.15bn exports go to the republic.”

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Neale, hopefully you now have a ‘proper job’ after getting out of an EU position ????
    In a few years there will be lots of other people looking for work after Netherlands, France, Italy, Greece all vote to leave in 2017-18 !

  • john millar

    “Hard Brexit is the most likely option if things continue as they are going. This will be a disaster for Ireland, North & South.”
    Not quite 70 % of N Ireland runs on supporting the circus on the hill
    That will not change any time soon –Safe until the taxpayers patience (UK SE England Branch) runs out.

  • john millar

    “Northern Ireland was not. In the agri-food sector, £700m of the annual £1.15bn exports go to the republic.”

    And they have just become 15-20% cheaper

    “highest levels of deprivation, unemployment and poverty”

    The cause -too many people for a rain sodden area with zero natural resources to support (without state intervention hail the british welfare state )

  • Kevin Breslin

    Are we still entertaining the Farage charade?

    By his own logic he’s hadn’t had a proper job for years … funny that.

  • NMS

    But much of it is raw materials, which are processed in Ireland. All value-added accrues to Ireland. For example around 50% of UKNI lambs are slaughtered in Ireland, most milk produced is processed by Irish Co-ops.

    The supposed economic link between natural resources and prosperity was broken many years ago. Peripheral location is certainly an issue.

  • billypilgrim1

    And yet the 26 Irish counties which do not have the support of the British welfare state are vastly more prosperous than the six counties that do.

    It can’t be the location, the natural resources or the climate, can it? I mean, partition functions like a controlled experiment, and the results are unequivocal – NI’s problem is not its location, natural resources or climate.

    It’s the partition, stupid. It’s the union, stupid.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I would wager the average Leave voter here at least has more inquisition and concern about transitional problems than the average DUP MP does.

  • hotdogx

    That’s it Sr Rants, Do us all a favor and keep on believing that Brexit strengthens the union with Britain…..snigger snigger????

  • hotdogx

    When the British shut the money taps, NI will be first hit & worst hit.
    Why did Enda go to see Angela on her re-election, she probably has a soft spot for reunifications considering the success of Germany’s. Now What if Europe was ready to pick up the tab for NI’s public sector. The rest of Ireland has proven to be an excellent investment. She may consider investing in the north as part of the republic. This would be a win win for Europe!
    FF & FG will only organize north if they are sure they can win a border poll. If Europe is willing to pickup the tab it will be a game changer!!!

    1/Keep some territory of course.
    2/Punish Britain without actually punishing Britain
    2/Solve the border issue for ever
    3/Bring permanent peace & stability to Ireland
    4/The EU would benefit from great publicity if it were instrumental in the reunification of Ireland
    5/Britain will have done all the damage herself.
    6/Britain will be isolated and unable to bargain for better terms once Ireland is out of the equation.

  • Angry Mob

    We’ve been in Winter since November 1993, Spring beckons and soon thereafter Summer.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    It was just a joke !! ????

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Not sure where you got UK union out of what I said? You chuckies seem to have an obsession with ‘the union’ ????
    Still, as long as you’re happy ????
    Interesting to see Geert Wilders go up in popularity after the ridiculous anti free speech court case against him finished. Populism will hopefully save the European nations over the next few years.

  • Angry Mob

    My belief is the whole “hard brexit” being the most likely option is hyperbole. No one with an inkling of the issues would actually ever call for it, which is why I hope the government has learnt enough since the 24th June see how disastrous it would be. My hunch is that rejoining the EFTA as an interim solution solves a lot of the problems and is the most likely outcome.

  • hotdogx

    If a UI happens tomorrow i really hope you’d stick with and give it a chance and not leave, it would be boring here without you
    ???? The union is screwed whatever way you look at it.
    What are your arguments to keeping the status quo?
    The only thing slightly better is health care and even that argument is floundering

  • john millar

    The prod rejection of a UI is not economic -its political
    No Surrender remains the chant.
    The past 100 or so years have copper fastened it

    “Bring permanent peace & stability to Ireland ” LOL

  • eireanne3

    Peripheral location is an issue for the republic too –

  • Fear Éireannach

    No problem, we can swap 100000 Poles in England for those in NI convinced that they are ‘British’.

  • consul

    No one’s picking up the tab for the North. The level of public spending there is unsustainable and by some way. You have to make peace with that reality.

  • hotdogx

    Yes guys it’s unsustainable, the sick joke that is NI has lasted almost 100 years on the threat of war fear of war basis. Britain has now voted for self harm.
    The first place to suffer will be NI, the last place to be invested in is NI. Of course the economic argument for a UI makes perfect sense, it will fail to convince unionists for the simple reason that they have a blind emotional attachment to Britain. They will continue with it even if the Union Jack flies over a wasteland. But not everyone will accept this. Only a few swing voters are required to make a UI a reality. FF & FG moving north will be the sign that something is happening.

  • hotdogx

    It is only copper fastened in the minds of those who are emotionally attached to Britain & can’t see the wood for the trees.

  • consul

    Don’t worry nature will take it’s course in the end as nature always does.

  • Devil Eire

    The cause -too many people…

    Would that, by any chance, be because of the “sexual incontinence” of one community in Northern Ireland? (Hello Barnshee).

  • erasmus

    I can’t understand why people are getting into such a state about Brexit. Deep down everybody knows it’s never going to happen.

  • file

    Neale: As I am sure you are aware, part of the anti-UK feeling among other EU states comes from the fact that the UK never really fully signed up to any of the EU treaties. Each of them has a few pages at the back filled with UK derogations from the treaty. De Gaulle never wanted them in in the first place.

  • NMS

    Yes, but it controls its own affairs, which enables it to adapt. In recent years, it is clear that almost all of the gains have accrued to the greater Dublin region, leaving the peripheral regions of a peripheral region at an even more serious loss. This problem is mirrored throughout Europe.

    Ireland’s position without the UK leaves it incredibly exposed. It is now alone on the Western fringe of a mainly continental block & will be the only EU State (except Malta) without a land border with another EU member.

    The countries surrounding the Baltic have common concerns, those on the Eastern fringe similarly have matters in common. The so-called Club Med countries also have their own issues, but on an external basis are more likely to be worried about ensuring that Algeria does not go the same way of Egypt or even Libya.

    The assumption that Ireland, let alone Northern Ireland, will receive much consideration from anyone else in the EU is very wide of the mark. This is a self-inflicted injury.

    Ireland has two stark choices, fully integrate with the rest of the EU, joining Schengen etc., & by doing so slashing the tattered umbilical cord with the UK. Alternatively, follow the UK out & re-apply for membership of the UK. The “Tadhg an dá thaobh” approach, which sees Ireland playing the role of honest broker, or perhaps in more (accurate?) fruity parlance, being the “UK’s bitch”, is not tenable. Northern Ireland is screwed either way.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    If it’s such a bad thing for Ireland it could follow the UK out of the EU. The two economies are intricately linked. The Common Travel Area predates the EEC and could be strengthened/enhanced if Ireland were to exit. The arguments for this position will be well put (and countered, of course, otherwise it would be boring) at an upcoming conference in Dublin on March 2. See

  • Angry Mob

    Maybe they have progressed faster along the grieving stages than you have, denial is the first stage.

  • Angry Mob

    Silly idea, there wouldn’t even be 100k British-Poles in Northern Ireland.

  • john millar

    “And yet the 26 Irish counties which do not have the support of the British welfare state are vastly more prosperous than the six counties that do.

    Hardly -existed in penury for decades- surviving by “exporting” hundreds of thousands to (mostly) the UK ( and “the welfare state”) Piggybacked into the EU on the UK`s back. EC grants (German British Funds ) helped. Now faced with paying to rather than getting from the EC Returned to penury 2007 again exported thousands of citizens

    Now dirtying its trousers at the prospect UK leaving the EC Housing beyond the purchase or rental for thousands ,prices for any item far beyond UK prices

    “And yet the 26 Irish counties which do not have the support of the British welfare state are vastly more prosperous than the six counties that do.” LOL

  • NMS

    Jeff – I suppose, because remaining in the EU, without the UK, is the lesser of two evils. The natural next step is to slash the tattered remains of the umbilical cord, join Schengen and leave the UK as a whole, completely alone.

    If Ireland was to follow the UK out (a logical enough idea, at one level) it would become a peripheral region of a very isolated group of islands.

    Personally, I favour giving Donegal as a going away present, it will make building the wall so much cheaper, and rid us of a serious fiscal drag!

  • john millar

    “Would that, by any chance, be because of the “sexual incontinence” of one community in Northern Ireland? (Hello Barnshee).”

    I am thinking “globally”

    There appears to be a mismatch between the Economic activity levels in some countries and the success of those those levels to house feed educate etc the population to an appropriate level.

    The elephant in the room is of course “an appropriate level”

    There are only really three choices

    1 Carry on as before
    2 Increase economic activity to increase access to “the appropriate level” for more people more wealth to share out.
    3 Try to encourage a match between population numbers and economic activity levels to maximise ” the share out” of economic activity.

    Societies have (putting it mildly) not always succeeded in implementing choice 2.

    Western Societies try to mitigate the effect of excess populations via state welfare systems which encourage populations to remain in situe. Not always with great success. In the UK the drawing power of London and the SE in Ireland that of Dublin and its environs produces substantial imbalances between inward “immigration” and subsequent demand and ability to pay for large sections of society

    its worth repeating

  • john millar

    “It is only copper fastened in the minds of those who are emotionally attached to Britain & can’t see the wood for the trees.”

    Thy can only be outvoted
    Get on with it.

  • john millar

    “The first place to suffer will be NI, the last place to be invested in is NI.”

    How will they suffer? they are working directly for the “house on the hill” or subcontracting to it or on the “dole”

    Only the end of the hill will change anything

  • erasmus

    The EU (or continuing EU!) negotiates a particularly tough deal with the UK. ‘Pour encourager les autres’. This is then rejected by the UK parliament the supremacy of which has been legally affirmed. Result: no more Brexit.

  • Kevin Breslin

    1) It’s not a bad thing for the Republic of Ireland Jeff, the British Eurosceptics make political capital out of the 2 referendums the Irish people voted against the EU while ignoring the 8 referendums the Irish voted for… so we can ask the people again about this without prejudice and they will tell us what they want to say, not what we want to hear.

    It should also be made clear Ireland has this safeguard because of Crotty vs. An Taoiseach … a legal action taken against the Irish government to protect its citizenry.

    There was no Respect the Irish Vote sweaters from UKIP MEPs when the Irish voted for the Fiscal Compact was there?

    Kipper Kinsmanship is cheap when it doesn’t suit the Kipper!

    Funny how Crotty, an Irish Eurosceptic who changed the Republic of Ireland approach to the European Union fundamentally is considered a hero even by pro-EU people like me for ensuring people on both sides of the EU debate could express their vigilance towards the EU. Yet Gina Miller is ostracized by some pro-Brexit forces for ensuring the country she loves does the same thing.

    Both people have the same basic desire, they don’t want their governments doing backdoor side deals with other countries without democratic consent and oversight.

    Constitutions are covenants that ensure democracies function on behalf of the entire population without undue discrimination, rather than in the interests of tyrannical majority looking to undermine basic democratic protections like political process.

    2) I see no reason why the Common Travel Area would be enhanced by Ireland leaving the EU, like Schengen it can keep between EU and non-EU borders (e.g. Austria-Switzerland) so long as the UK doesn’t fester a travel quagmire.

    As far as I am concerned it’s the UK’s unilateral policies that are harming Northern Ireland and the Republic here … do you really think they’d be up for sharing more migration sovereignty with a nation that has virtually NO net migration and wants to maintain its own discretionary controls?

    The island of Ireland has virtually no net migration, and somehow people living on a completely different island want a foreign country to selflessly cracking down on literally a few hundred Poles, Lithuanians or Slovenians both Islands have both hosted since World War 2 just in case they teleport over to the other island by mistake. Pure Common Sense defenestration.

    Brexit won’t stop them coming into Britain, so sure as hell they’re not going to be kept out of Ireland for dogmatic stupidity policy of a near neighbour.

    Think about how few Finns or Bulgarians or Romanians are on our islands, Romanians prefer the Mediterranean regions. Compare that with Indians and Pakistanis and Nigerians who don’t have EU Free Movement privileges!

    Why are there more Indians in the UK than Poles?
    Why are there more Pakistanis in the the UK than Irish?
    Why are there more Kenyans in the UK than there are French?
    Why are there more Ghanians in the UK than there are Romanians?
    Why are there more Gibraltese in the UK than Croats and Slovenians combined?

    Pretty much you can replace UK with GB there, because Commonwealth citizens in both parts of Ireland pretty much follow the same pattern with one another than with England.

    Ignore the Daily Express nonsense and think of the Realpolitik for a second, enhanced means undemocratic Westminster claw back of control of Irish borders without a valid mandate … All the talk of the Undemocratic EU, and yet many Eurosceptic Brits want Irish to be subject to British made laws without input or even selective acquis.

    3. The big problem in the UK and Irish situation is the movement of freight not people (because Ireland’s problem in both parts is still EMIGRATION) and to be honest the EU has dealt with that problem a lot better than both the UK and Irish have done bilaterally much to the chagrin of Eurosceptics on both sides.

    Think about what came before for a while …

    * War of Independence
    * Economic War
    * The World War and The Emergency
    * Protectionist Measures
    * A bilateral free trade deal where custom duties still applied and non-tariff barriers were raised against one another unilaterally.

    Tariffs existed pretty much until both joined the EEC, and customs checks existed until the full maturity of the EU customs union in the late 1980’s.

    So don’t give me this nonsense that an Irexit and being out of the EU under some UK free trade deal is going to fix the border or mean freight can travel virtually hassle free.

    Forty Years of the Republic of Ireland and the UK not being in the same customs union and they couldn’t put differences aside to have anything like Norway-Sweden.

    Not being specifically Anglophobic here … both sides couldn’t swallow their pride and compromise on a practical level of sovereignty sharing here.

    Why do pro-Leave Northern Ireland denizens have any confidence in the message that the borders of the Present can be maintained by Brexit and/or Irexit?

    People throughout Northern Ireland know the big lies that were spun out by the Leave side, they know how clueless the evangelical Leavers are about the realpolitik of having an international border without common enforcement policies and without co-operating agendas.

    Are Eurosceptic Unionists so insularity stupid as to believe 4,500,000 denizens of the Republic of Ireland many of them, they themselves want nothing to do with are just going to surrender their customs sovereignty to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs just because they tell them to?

    How hypocritical must it be to Nigel Farage to talk about Ireland’s hard fought sovereignty in one breath, and then expect Dublin to be subjects to Westminster because of British brinkmanship and Conservative contempt?

    If the UK doesn’t show contempt for the two regions in Ireland it should have no problem, however expecting the Republic of Ireland to enter an even more undemocratic (and increasingly anti-federal/anti-devolution) union than the EU is a dead end the Eurosceptics need to stop contemplating.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The status quo is gone with Brexit, those conservative DUP, UUP and TUV types with their conservative Conservative friends need to wake up to a changed border.

    Stop saying there will be no returning to the Borders of the Past admit the far more truthful policy that there is no retaining the border of the present … for better or worst voting for Brexit was a Border Poll and it was a Border poll done by the UK to affect the border here.

    If the UK mess it up to get at the EU that’s going to harm the Union here, because it amplifies the central messages of Irish nationalism.

    The EU really mitigated and limited the problems of partition, Brexit may not just lead to freight issue partitions, but it could pretty much re-enforce the disassociation between an increasingly more insular Britain and an increasingly more overseas Northern Ireland.

    Northern Ireland should know better than any other region on these islands that Political Union is no defense against social separatism or barrier to social integration, it comes down to the will of people.

    The Union cannot survive on Fool English Brexits, and no Irishman and no Scot regardless of their views on the EU being good or bad has done so much to tie the English to these policies as the Norn Irish Eurosceptics who wanted their “culture” protected here.

    Northern Ireland rejected their culture argument, and rejected being tied to the same old binary Orange and Green divides on this arguments, time for these Eurosceptics to face up to the multiculturalism that already exists among them, from Derry-Londonderry to North Down. 😀

    It’s time for those who wanted this Brexit here to face up to the locals who both rejected it and are sceptical and concerned about it with diplomacy rather than their own dogmatic diktats.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Cyprus doesn’t have a land border with a EU member and it is not a Schengen nation. If Cypriot partition keeps them out of the Schengen region, Irish partition is cause enough to keep it out of the Schengen region.

    I really cannot see why the Republic of Ireland needs to join Schengen, when it’s not imperative on it or any Schengen nation to join it. A simple bilateral deal between the CTA and Schengen nations to protect one another should be sufficient, if not both sides lose co-operation they both need.

    Republic of Ireland may as well stay the Reverse Switzerland in the EU in this case. Schengen is primarily designed for the Western European Continent anyway.

  • Kevin Breslin

    For every five extra migrants that come into Northern Ireland than leave each day, there’s sixteen new people born than die.

    Euthanasia and Birth Control would be more efficient at population control than managing migrants who came from miles and miles to a cold rainy island who could pretty much hide in the countryside for years.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Pareto-Efficiency of Economies does not come from Micromanaging populations … if people want to engineer their societies to be more productive they can think of the hugely wasted native populations not doing necessary jobs than migrants who basically will end up as vagrants with no social protections if they to get a job, a house or a spouse they can sponge off before coming here.

    The vast majority of the working population in the United Kingdom is BRITISH, so managing the numbers of British people in work doing the jobs British need doing is a British problem.

    Replace United Kingdom for Ireland, and Irish for British from that sentence, and then Replace Ireland with Northern Ireland and Irish with Northern Irish in the following sentence. Same truth applies.

    Until those moaning about migrant numbers help their native populations get jobs in structurally necessary jobs like scooping up chicken poop previously done by migrants then they need to stop talking about migrant numbers and actually make themselves counted!

    Little Maths pun at the end.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What happened in November 1993 that was so bad?
    Northern Ireland had plenty of Winters of Discontent before joining the EEC didn’t it?

    Forgive the cynicism, but that was plain to see.

  • austin mcclafferty

    If Neale Richmond casts his thoughts as presented and finds himself being the spokesman for a national government. It would be interesting if not funny to see the rest of the body if he is the face of it. The article is probably best not commented by me on this occasion.

  • Angry Mob

    The Maastricht treaty happened.

  • Angry Mob

    If parliament reject any deal negotiated we are out after the two years with no deal and only WTO rules, i.e a hard brexit a result more unfavourable than actually remaining.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    I think we would be happy to take Donegal. We would also be happy to ‘build the wall !!!’ and keep the Mexicans out. ????

  • John Collins

    With regard to emigration from what the ROI its population fell at every of the last seven census here, while we were under GB Rule and during the 2007 outflow you mention for every five people that left four from other countries migrated here.
    As regards our entry into the EEC, which you seem to resent so much, we would have probably have gained entry much sooner if Dr Gaulle had not detested GB so much, for some inexplicable reason.

  • Roger