The deeply unsentimental Brendan Keenan is always worth reading, especially on Brexit:
When Remain Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers Liam Fox and Michael Gove issued a statement saying the UK would indeed leave both the customs union and the single market, it looked like a hardening of the position.
It certainly showed Mr Hammond positioning himself for the party leadership. But the statement had all three in favour of a transitional arrangement after formal exit in 2019.
That is a major change for the Brexiteers. One might well ask how they could ever have thought otherwise, but they did, and it is surely an indication that this is all still to play for.
The question here is what should the Irish Government be playing for, and how should it go about it?
Here’s the payload:
The Department of Finance has already calculated the intolerable consequences of a disorderly Brexit. That is a better word than ‘hard’, which implies a deliberate choice. It is clear no one who matters wants that choice now. It could still happen though.
As one official put it, Ireland is “off the EU chart” when it comes to the exposure of its food, indigenous manufacturing and chemical industries. It is not just agri-business, although it is the most vulnerable, with almost 50pc exposure to the UK. Apart from Cyprus at 25pc, the next most exposed, not surprisingly, are Holland and Denmark but their figure is just 10pc. Doubtless this is a concern to them, and they may be useful allies, but it is not the cataclysm it represents for Ireland.
The vulnerable sectors count for more than just their economic size. They are the sinews of the economy outside Dublin and the foundation of social life, especially in the border region. No wonder Mr Varadkar got tired of talk about cameras and off-line customs posts.
If trade is not free, or nearly so, an invisible border will make no difference to the damage done. That is why the British report on how it might operate is less relevant that the previous day’s one on UK intentions.
Free movement of people may well continue, irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations, but that outcome will decide the nature of the border and determine the degree of loss in Irish incomes, employment, creditworthiness and social cohesion.
…if a transitional arrangement is secured, the Government is right to keep planning for the worst, as well as hoping for the best, and at least there would be some extra time to get ready.
It is in those years that any special arrangements on the island of Ireland would be negotiated.
There is much talk of the North somehow remaining in the customs union, but little on how “special status” would work in practice.
There are also dreadful dilemmas as in all of that. As so often before, an Irish Government would face making choices between the interests of the Republic and those of the North and the island as a whole. [Emphasis added]
But do read it all.