Irish national interests and “…the intolerable consequences of a disorderly Brexit.”

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.

  • epg_ie

    There’s absolutely no goodwill flowing up and east at the moment, with no self-government in NI, SF staying out north to avoid blowback south, and a UK govt trying to use Ireland as negotiation pawn. You can’t technologically invisibly stop people shipping chlorinated chicken into the EU – Ireland’s only hope is what is tactfully called a transition, untactfully called no Brexit. The problem with the game now is that there is no winning move for SF, and Western voters seem to resent harmful inaction less than harmful action.

  • runnymede

    The exaggeration of the importance of agriculture in the modern Irish economy by these articles is quite astonishing.

  • NewSouthernMan

    I concur with BK and would also add that opinion in the South is hardening.

    To sum it up (as I see it):
    * No way will we let the crazies across the irish Sea pull is down again.
    * We will protect our economy.
    * Let’s grab what we can from London (BofA, etc).
    * We’ll take care of the farmers on this side of the border but too bad about the other side, that’s Britain’s problem.
    * The unionists will cut their nose off to spite themselves. Too bad about them.
    * A hard border is crazy but we (26) will survive.

    In general, people down here are quite shocked at the incompetence of the British – based on history, we thought that was only reserved for irish matters!

  • Georgie Best

    Agriculture is the hard one, if it can solved then so can other stuff.

  • Georgie Best

    ‘but little on how “special status” would work in practice.’

    There is little on how anything will work, special status and everything else alike. It is for the UK to propose ideas and they are stalling for political reasons. The UK has experience with this concept, the Isle of Man gets most goods from Britain.

  • Reader

    Well, that all looks like rhetoric. Is there anything remotely actionable yet?

  • Ruairi Murphy

    No mention of the consequences for the sizeable number of your compatriots on the other side of the border who will equally suffer when Unionists cut their nose off to spite their face. What should they do?

  • Karl

    Presumably the EU will buy Irish excess agricultural output while the markets get used to the Brexit changes and stick in a mountain for a while. Been done before. Its relatively easy for 26 to support Ireland’s most exposed industry.

  • runnymede

    Why should they?

  • runnymede

    That bluster seems very much variance with what official Irish opinion is thinking.

  • Disappointed

    I would recommend that people read what the uk government has proposed. It has accepted that the NI border remain open without people checks. Migrants can cross at will, new controls relate only to the right to work and will be implemented via national insurance numbers. It has also proposed to implement eu customs at its own borders so none are neccessary at the NI border. Where imported goods might illegally be traded across the border and on into the wider EU the uk will implement a scheme where the import tax can only be reclaimed at or near the point of consumption. Anyone importing chlorinated chickens into paris will be unable to reclaim the import tax making it uneconomic.
    The proposals remove the need for a hard border and are very beneficial for Ireland. I recommend reading them as most irish press reports i’ve seen are making little attempt to explain it. “The uk will demand a hard border due to its obsession with migrants” is depressingly common.

  • AstralWeeks666

    Irish farmers should really diversify into forestry anyway.

  • Karl

    Because their measure of making Brexit as success is ensuring that the UK is worse off and that EU countries impacted by it will be cushioned by the EU 27.
    The EUs primary goal in these negotiations is to ensure that there is no Brexit contagion. They must demonstrate that countries who choose to leave will be worse off and countries that remain members are supported by the EU as a whole.
    Thats why.

  • Georgie Best

    How does this reclaim the import tax thing work? There might be a germ of an idea there.

  • Frank Witte

    When goods are banned from being imported into the EU27 area how are they going to be stopped crossing the UK/EU27 border in the Irish island? There are only two ways:
    – The UK signs up to the same non-tariff barriers as the EU27, i.e. banns the same products and the same countries of origin (i.e. defacto re-joins the Customs Union) and goods can flow freely;
    – The UK does not and hence there must be controls at (or near) the border. Taxing products is not equivalent to banning products.

  • Disappointed

    I think its a bit like vat. Businesses in the uk register and can reclaim the tax. The elegant part is that the eu27 don’t have to implement anything.

  • Disappointed

    This is where it gets interesting. The uk has offered to mirroe eu standards so presumably the requirement for CE marks in the uk would continue. A slightly penal rate on things like chlorinated chicken would effectively be a barrier to import into the eu27. The difficulty would be where the eu/uk diverged on what to ban e.g, the uk legalised heroin. I don’t see how that could be handled other than the uk agreeing to mirror eu rules where an economic barrier wasn’t enough.

  • eamoncorbett

    That mountain thing was tried years ago with butter and beef , don’t think it will be done again.

  • eamoncorbett

    Or solar panels , though I’ve heard the revenue do penalise the profits in a big way.