I was in Dublin at the weekend; nothing unusual about that, it is my hometown and I go back regularly. On this occasion it was the 40th reunion of my UCD class of ’77. I know that I move in circles where everyone is both successful and well educated so their opinions may not represent a true cross-section of the Irish population however a few things were evident:
- The belief that Brexit would harmful to the UK was even stronger than the last visit.
- The belief that a hard Brexit and the UK walking away from the negotiating table if the terms were unfavorable is considered ridiculous, as the UK has far more to loose than the EU. However this will affect Ireland more than any other country.
- The belief that the UK is delusional both in hankering back to the old empire and in not realising that the pro-Brexit arguments were a tissue of lies. As Mark Twain said “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”.
- There was a general welcoming of the UK GE result however worry that the DUP would be involved in government. To misquote Seamus Heaney “When the male county England, invaded and raped the female country Ireland it left behind a bastard child which is the DUP”.
- There was deep concern for the North of Ireland and the border region within the Republic. Whereas only about 10% of Irish exports end up in the UK (it was 12% in 2015 but has fallen in percentage terms since then) the agri-food sector is very exposed and will be badly hit.
Dublin and the Republic of Ireland seem to be doing exceptionally well with economic growth back to a 4-5% trend rate. There seemed a general belief that this was just taking up the slack of the 2008 recession. Given however, the exposure of the Republic to the Banks and the non-sovereign currency (Euro) and the special measures imposed by the Troika; it highlights just how poorly the UK has been run over the same period. Indeed the prospect of the UK returning even to the 3% historic growth rate seems remote.
In 1801 when Ireland joined the Union with Britain, Dublin was the 2nd city in these islands in terms of importance and economic output. By 1922 when Ireland left the Union it was not even in the top 10 (and even 2nd to Belfast on the island of Ireland). Now it is easily back in 2nd place, with Greater Dublin well exceeding Greater Manchester, Birmingham or alternatively the combined cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in terms of economic output. It shows. There is an economic vitality that is absent in any British city with the singular exception of London.
I argued using the Anna Karenina principle (“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”) on Prof Richard Murphy’s blog TRUK last year that the Brexiteers deliberately kept the outcome of Brexit vague to maximise support. This theme was taken up by Martin Wolf in the FT two days ago (link to Irish Times version as it is behind less of a paywall).
“Among many defects was the failure to specify alternatives properly. There is no binary choice between Remain and Leave. There is a possible choice between Remain and many Leaves. Subject to agreement with the EU, these could vary from the softest – permanent membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union; to the hardest – no post-Brexit deal; or the chaotic – no deal at all.
Given how close the outcome was, Remain would almost certainly have defeated any specific version of Brexit in a two-way race. Yet in the end the UK can only have a specific version of Brexit. That is why it is democratically legitimate to demand another referendum between Remain and the negotiated version of Brexit (if any). Unfortunately, it might be difficult for the UK to withdraw its application to leave.
This foolish process has now set the UK on a path to a chaotic exit. Britain has long wanted to divide Europe. It is now uniting it against itself. That is a strategic disaster.”
What Wolf fails to point out is that the failure to pin down alternatives was deliberate strategy. I believe also that the Anna Karenina principle was used to devastating effect by the Trump team in the US.
On rescinding article 50 Macron seemed to think it was possible, but Guy Verhofstadt video here – indicates it would be on worse terms. Guy is always very entertaining (and an Alice in Wonderland reference a bit reminiscent of Ken Clark’s Brexit speech).
Prof Simon Wren-Lewis uses the chess term zugswang. “The GE2017 result left the Conservatives in a position that chess players call a zugswang, which means whatever you do makes your position worse.”
“But what do you do when your crowd-pleasing applause lines have to become public policy? The twenty-seven remaining member states of the EU have to try to extract a rational outcome from an essentially irrational process. They have to ask the simple question: What do you Brits actually want? And the answer is that the Brits want what they can’t possibly have. They want everything to change and everything to go as before. They want an end to immigration—except for all the immigrants they need to run their economy and health service. They want it to be 1900, when Britain was a superpower and didn’t have to make messy compromises with foreigners.”
I couldn’t blame the Irish for feeling schaudenfraude. My only hope is that the DUP will prove so toxic that even the Tories won’t be able to work with them (a bit of fun here) and that a second General Election will produce a working progressive coalition which can undo the “fine mess they have gotten us into” to paraphrase Laurel and Hardy.