A Historical Prequel
A major tipping point in the Turmoil of 1914-1922 as discussed in my recent blog, was the 1916 Easter Rising centred in Dublin. At the time there was a heart and soul struggle between constitutional Nationalists led by John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who were still hoping for Home Rule (devolution) and number of more radical groups dedicated to forming a completely independent 32 county Republic, by armed struggle if necessary.
On Easter Monday 1916 a number of armed groups, including The Irish Volunteers, The Irish Citizen Army and the women’s group Cumann na mBan started the Rising. The rising itself was a small affair, with a few thousand involved, rather than the hundreds of thousands in the various armed Republican groups at the time. (A good description of the rising has been one by the IrishPassport Blog team, which also explains why the Rising was so small).
The iconic document of the Rising was the Proclamation, famously read out by Pádraig Pearse on the steps of the GPO and copies the pasted on buildings around the city centre. This included what might now be called a mission statement:
The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
This was fairly radical at the time, promising Democratic Socialism and an attempt to hold out an olive branch to the Unionists.
The Rising was quickly crushed aided by a Gunboat on the main Dublin river, the Liffey (the Helga), leaving much of central Dublin in ruins.
It could have been a footnote in history. What made the difference however was the British response, which was considered, a total over-reaction, unjustified, brutal and bullying. Hearts and minds were won by the Republics and and the path set towards the war of independence.
Force and heavy-handedness had precisely the opposite effect than Britain had intended.
The island was partitioned in 1921, between the six NE counties and the 26 others. Lloyd George famously told the Nationalist one thing – a border commission would reduce the size of the 6 counties so much that it would not be economically viable. The Unionists were told exactly the opposite. There was extreme bad blood on both sides.
De Valera distrusted Westminster and Churchill so much he refused to do a deal at the start of WWII. An offer of a United Ireland was made if Ireland entered the war. Ireland remained neutral.
There was also treachery from the Tory Party, towards the Unionists. The Unionist leader Edward Carson famously said in the Lords in December 1921:
What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power. And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies, and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got into power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief, or damage that they do to those who have helped them to gain power.
The vitriol and bitterness is palpable. Carson was a Dubliner, played hurling, considered himself an Irish patriot, but one who believed the way forward was for the whole of Ireland to remain in the UK and thought partition a disaster.
Trust was gradually rebuilt when both countries joined the EEC (the precursor to the EU) in 1973 and even more so after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The EU provided a platform where both sides could deal with each other on a day to day basis and build up friendship and trust. Since Brexit however, trust has diminished and there has been the near intractable issue of the Irish Border.
If the British are mistrusted, the Tories are trusted even less and the right wing Tories not at all. There is an Irish phrase “Are the Brits at it again” and a website dedicated to close observation. It confirms today that the Brits are indeed at it again.
The Backstop is carefully designed to be the minimum requirement to protect the invisible border, the GFA and the all island economy. An all weather insurance policy only to be triggered at the end of the transition period if no other alternative arrangements have been found. It is by no means an ideal solution, but the only one, so far, to guarantee an open border should Brexit go ahead.
There is no love for the Backstop on any side. It is the best of a bad job and if the UK comes up with a credible alternative it will be welcomed by both Dublin and Brussels. The UK has so far however been unwilling or unable to do so.
For years there have been ridiculous statements about Ireland from both the Brexiteers and the right wing press. Some of my favorites are the Shut your Gob Leo headline in the Sun, Kate Hoey’s Trump like Mexican wall solution to the Irish border and Ian Duncan Smith’s fantastical suggestion that SF was influencing the Irish government position on the border.
The 19th cent., then head of the ultra-Brexit ERG, Jacob Rees Mogg (JRM) threatened that: “If Britain trades on WTO terms, we could potentially slap tariffs of up to 70 per cent on Irish beef; that could bankrupt Ireland, who export £800million of beef to us every year”.
Over the summer there have been a series of vitriolic attacks on Ireland by, for example, R Littlejohn and Nick Timothy here.
There have been threats from ministers Patel threatening Ireland with food shortages and in Madrid on the 19th Sept. an extraordinarily aggressive speech from Barclay, threatening the Irish with medicine shortages – Bareknuckle Steve as coined by Peter Foster.
There are also many claims that a hard Brexit would be far more damaging to Ireland than Britain by Fraser Nelson and many others.
All these threats are essentially drop the Backstop or else we will cause you major damage, and it will be your fault that there is no-deal. There is no ownership on the Brexit side – it is always somebody else fault that they can’t get the perfect Brexit they want, as pointed out on many occasions in Prof. Chris Grey’s excellent Brexit Blog.
The ERG have also openly stated that dropping the Backstop will not be enough to make them vote for a deal. There is quite frankly such turmoil in the UK there is little incentive for Ireland or the EU to move.
There are also two major logical fallacies in the Brexiters objection to the Backstop.
The first is that they argue it can easily be replaced with technology etc., so is not needed. The issue here is that the WA already makes it absolutely clear that the backstop will only come into force if technological solutions can’t be found and will disappear immediately if they are found. Wanting to get rid of the backstop is an absolute admission technological solutions won’t work, or at least won’t work on time.
The second is the Lord Bew and Trimble argument that the Backstop violates the GFA because of the principle of consent, in that both communities, Nationalist and Unionist, have to agree to it, as it changes the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The backstop does not have the consent of the Unionist community. This is being pushed very hard by HMG at present, generally pointing out that Lord Trimble has a Nobel Prize for peace. If this indeed were the case the same argument is absolutely true of Brexit itself, as Brexit most certainly does not have the support of the Nationalist community.
The settled legal opinion seems to be that neither Brexit or the Backstop, threatens the GFA, or has any effect on NI’s constitutional status, which makes HMG’s arguments even more disingenuous. It is also extremely dangerous as it stoke up sectarian tension in NI. It is certainly a violation of the GFA, which requires HMG to act absolutely impartially with respect to both communities.
Public opinion in NI is also pro Backstop and anti-Brexit by around a 60%-40% margin.
Why Does the UK want to get Rid of the Backstop?
The suspicion is that the UK wants to get Ireland to drop the Backstop to hold Ireland hostage and gain unfair advantage. If the Backstop can be moved to being a bilateral between the UK and IE, the UK can use its superior power to get its own way.
The power asymmetry is such that the EU is far more powerful than the UK, but the UK far more powerful than IE. In GDP terms the EU27 has a GDP of c 18T$, the UK c 2.5T$ and IE c 0.375T$. The EU economy is about seven times larger than that of the UK and UK economy about seven times larger than that of IE. Which is an interesting symmetry.
This is the classic Serengeti strategy as described by Michael Mann. Peel off what you think is a weak member from the herd and use your superior power to eat them alive.
There are also many Brexiters who think IE is part of their curtilage, in the same way Russia looks at Crimea. The irony is of course that if IE were still a part of the UK and had been able to vote in the Referendum, the UK as a whole would have voted to “Remain”. They also seem to believe that Ireland is too insignificant to have any capacity to makes its own decisions and must therefore be a pawn of the EU. This fuels a large part of their annoyance. To that fact that IE is a modern country with considerable political, diplomatic and economic capacity, they remain in blissful ignorance.
What they want is obvious.
As Prof. Kevin H O’Rourke puts it:
It is perfectly obvious that HMG would like to use it as a Trojan horse. We will diverge from you in regulations, and do trade deals with Trump, but you must put up with smuggling into the EU via Ireland for the sake of peace.
And of course, once that precedent has been accepted, then there is no reason to not put up with a bit of smuggling on the Dover-Calais route ether.
Do they think the Europeans were born yesterday?
There has also been up until recently a need to keep the DUP sweet as they had an effective veto, despite the fact that they were only voted for by about 36% of the NI electorate. The DUP are paranoid about any lessening of ties to Britain and detest the Backstop. It will be interesting if they retain their influence under the new regime.
Irish attitudes to the EU the UK and Backstop
Ireland is not split into Leavers and Remainers. Leavers are as rare a hens teeth. In the last European Parliament Election Hermann Kelly the leader of the Irexit Party, a close friend and aide of Farage, manged to poll only 0.67% of the vote. I know absolutely no Irish person who thinks Brexit is going well, but in 2016 a very few Lexit people who though in principle Brexit might be a good idea. More detailed reasons as to why the EU is so popular are given in my previous blog Why Is Ireland so pro EU?
The feeling almost universally in Ireland (apart from very few outliers such as Ray Bassett) is that Brexit is madness – a scam that will harm the normal Brit immensely and just benefit the already very rich. There is a belief that many Brexiters are politically naïve, bullet-headed and brainwashed by their appalling right wing press and a BBC which now seems to more resemble the TASS news agency. There is also a belief that the UK simply doesn’t understand the EU, extending right up to recent PMs. This has been confirmed.
There is astonishment that Freedom of Movement is not seen as an immense positive. There is horror at how badly the British are treating their own Citizens in Europe and disgust that EU citizens in the UK are being used as bargaining chips.
There is sadness that the UK is leaving the EU, but absolute acceptance that as a sovereign country it has an absolute right to do so.
Peace on the island of Ireland was hard fought, fragile and there is a determination that as co-guarantor of the GFA, everything that can be done to protect it will to be done. Peace and people are far more important than political or financial gain.
The Backstop is exactly what it “says on the tin”, an all weather insurance policy. There is absolutely no ulterior motive either to force Britain into a position it doesn’t like, or to gain a United Ireland by stealth.
On a United Ireland there is in general a St Augustine approach “God make me pure but not yet” and belief that the a United Ireland may need more radical changes than the South just absorbing the North. There are years of preparation work to be done and a string of white papers needed so that people know exactly what they are getting in an eventual Border Poll.
There is a belief that the Backstop is a “deal of the Century” for NI. As Charles Tannock describes it: a Hong Kong in Ireland (he means economically rather than politically). NI is way behind IE economically and the Backstop may be exactly what NI needs. It has the support of many (all?) major business organisations in NI as indeed the Ulster Farmers Union who are normally major supporters of the DUP.
There is immense sympathy for the Scots and indeed the millions of Remain English and Welsh. But provided NI is looked after a belief that Brexit may need to happen for England especially to grow up.
At present in Ireland there is on Brexit essentially a government of national unity. Historic differences have been put aside and Brexit is the worst threat since WWII. There is disbelief that not only can the UK politicians not pull together, but even the Remain parties can not do so. The current bickering between Labour and the Lib Dems is watched with disbelief, as is the Labour Conference, where the party seems to be tearing itself apart.
Ireland knows how damaging a split society can be. The Irish Civil War of 1922 split families for generations. More recently the 1983 abortion referendum, which has an uncanny resemblance to the Brexit Referendum viciously split the country. The 1983 referendum was such a horrific experience, it was 35 years before the country dared run a referendum on Abortion again. My blog about it here. Prof. Tom Hesketh described it as The Second Partitioning of Ireland in his book.
What is horrific is that, far from HMG trying to heal the country it seems to be pouring petrol on the fire. It is hoped that the UK will heal quickly, but sadly a belief that it will take decades.
There is bewilderment at the inept way HMG and the UK civil and diplomatic service is handling Brexit. How a once great and admired country can be so diminished in reputation, in just a few years is extraordinary. There is general admiration for the Irish Government. Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Helen McEntee, Neale Richmond and Mareid McGuinness MEP have all enhanced their reputations. Just as the UKs reputation is diminishing, Ireland’s is rising.
Are the Threats Credible?
For threats to work they need to be credible. Checking actual trade figures etc. is essential to determine l’actualité. Some advice to UK ministers is to do your homework first.
Bankrupting Ireland by slapping 70% Tarriffs on Beef Exports – Jacob Rees Mogg
What I think is deliciously ironic, and again shows a near complete ignorance of Ireland, is that the Irish economy has moved on from the 19th century (which JRM seems to inhabit), when the Irish economy was indeed largely dependent on food exports to Britain. The current situation is very different. As Fig.2 shows, in 2016, for example, Bovine meat only accounted for 1% of Irish goods exports. About half of this (46%) goes to the UK according to the OEC Database. Goods and services exports are of similar size for Ireland, therefore Irish beef exports to the UK are about 0.25% of all exports. This will naturally have a major impact on cattle farming but to state it could bankrupt Ireland is simply silly and makes Rees Mogg look totally clueless. Credibility score zero.
Starving Ireland with a blockade- Priti Patel
This one is particularly vicious, given the history of the great hunger (1845-48). Even at the time of the great hunger however, Ireland easily produced enough food to feed itself. It was the fact that vast quantities of food were still being exported to England throughout the famine, often under gunpoint that the Irish felt unforgivable.
The situation has moved on and Ireland is one of the most food secure nations in the world. Indeed in 2017 IE claimed the title of the world’s most food secure nation: Ireland Tops U.S. as the Country Best Able to Feed Its People.
Ireland can not only feed itself but exports about 90% of the food it produces. This is in contrast to the UK which only produces around 50% of the food it needs.
The Irish are also making considerable efforts to insulate themselves from a hard Brexit. For example, in contrast to Dover, there is considerable work going on at Dublin Port, the most recent addition (after considerable infrastructure upgrades) being the launching of the Brexit Busting Super Ferry. If all the parking lanes on the 235m long vessel were laid end to end, they would stretch to almost 8 km, making it the world’s largest short sea ro-ro ferry. Credibility score zero.
Threatening Ireland with medicine shortages (Steve Barclay)
This is particularly nasty. What Barclay may not realise is that Ireland is one of the world’s major producers of drugs and medicine and exports vast quantities. As shown in Fig. 3. The figure is a few years out of data and Ireland has now overtaken the UK in export terms.
The Irish Pharma industry is vast and Ireland is a home for 24 out of the worlds top 25 pharmaceutical companies.
The Irish Pharma Industry is also expanding rapidly, while the UK one is going backwards. The self inflicted loss of the EU Medicines Agency – transferring from London to Amsterdam is one of the saddest things about Brexit, destroying not only 900 highly skilled jobs, but considerable competitive advantage in the Pharma sector.
Even though Ireland has one of the world’s largest pharma industries, modern pharma relies on economies of scale and Ireland (or indeed any other country) does not produce a full spectrum of drugs. As Dilín Ó Dose amusingly pointed out this works for the UK also.
All the hard-line Brexiteer men advocating not buying anything from #Ireland until we concede the #backstop . You won’t be so ‘hard’ when you realise that we make the entire world’s supply of Viagra…and also Botox. So enjoy your flaccid dicks and wrinkly wives. #Brexit
— Dilín Ó Dose (@MimiVonPeach) July 26, 2019
Ireland is however well prepared and should be able to weather the storm of a hard Brexit. It remains a credible threat, particularly for some medicines that are manufactured in the UK.
Dire Warnings that hard Brexit will hurt Ireland far more than the UK (Fraser Nelson).
These warnings often seem to based on the assumption that Ireland lacks the capacity to do any economic modelling of its own and hasn’t thought of the issue of economic harm. This of course is nonsense. The first comprehensive report was compiled in Nov 2015, Scoping the Possible Economic Implications of Brexit on Ireland, well before the Brexit Referendum. As Ed Brophy (Chief advisor to Irish Finance Minister ) says in his informative Twitter Thread, there has been extensive work in Ireland. Indeed as the UK Civil Service was not allowed to do any Brexit planning whatsoever pre-Referendum. Ireland is well ahead of the UK.
Hi @FraserNelson, we are delighted that you’re taking such a keen interest in Irish affairs, particularly the impact of a no-deal Brexit on our economy. However, we have been “doing our sums” for some time now & thought it might be worth sharing some of that work with you https://t.co/HR5Hc81PUV
— Ed Brophy (@edbrophy) September 5, 2019
Ireland is also one of the very few countries with which the UK has a trade surplus in goods. Ireland exports c 11% of its goods to the UK but about 24% of its goods imports come from the UK. Within the EU Ireland is easily the most valuable partner in terms of balance of trade as shown in Fig. 4. Ireland, after the US, Switzerland and the UAE, is the country with which the UK had the largest surplus in 2017. The surplus with Switzerland is artificial, however, as much is in gold bullion (which largely transits the UK with very little added value) and all Nissan cars exported from Sunderland to Europe are sold to Switzerland for Tax purposes. Exports to the UAE include substantial arms sales. In reality, therefore, Ireland may well the second most valuable country with which the UK has a genuine trade surplus (after the US) – which means that starting a trade war with Ireland is simply not a sensible option – except to a Brexit ideologue.
There is also again strange double-think among Brexiters, apparently (as Jim Grace and others have noted) simultaneously Germany’s trade with the UK gives the UK leverage and the UK’s trade surplus with IE also gives the UK leverage.
What is interesting also that whereas there is considerable IE capacity to export more to the UK, there is little extra UK capacity to export more to IE. Ireland has a purposeful strategy to disengage from the UK economy. Over recent years UK has often been in third place for Irish exports, marginally behind Belgium and well behind the US. It may well drop both below 10% of IE exports and into fourth place behind Germany this year. in 1973 when IE joined the EU 55% of exports went to the UK.
As David McWilliams has said the Irish economy has become decoupled from the UK one, he also notes that considerably more UK jobs depend on Ireland than visa versa.
Some of the economic predictions for Ireland are indeed dire. The shock could cause an immediate drop in GDP of 3.5% and the loss of 50k jobs.
It must be remembered however that the IE economy is growing strongly. In 2018 the growth rate was a staggering 8.2% and in excess of 80k jobs were created. This may not seem a lot in UK terms but given the IE population is less than 10% of that of the UK it would be the equivalent of more than 1M jobs in Britain. A figure never reached since WWII, but the UK came closest in 1987 during the Lawson boom.
Even if Ireland suffers a greater initial shock than Britain and this is unlikely, the Irish economy in in a much better state to deal with it. Ireland will take the hit.
What will No Deal Look Like?
It is of course very probable that No-Deal will averted, Jon Worth for example puts the likelihood of No-Deal on the 31st October at only 2%. Let’s assume however No-Deal indeed comes to pass.
There is of course the immediate problem of the Border, worthy of a separate blog in its own right. There will be no question that No-Deal will have a devastating effect on the NI economy and damage communities on both sides of the border. There is however a belief that “No Deal” solves nothing and even if the UK eventually gets a trade deal with the US (which is by no means certain) it will be of marginal value, less than 0.5% of GDP. The UK will have to talk to the EU eventually. The price for opening talks will be the acceptance of the Withdrawal Agreement: Citizens rights the outstanding bill and the Backstop (or equivalent).
The health of a country depends on more than trade. In the modern interconnected world the ability to attract both high quality Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and top talent from around the world is vital. IE and the UK compete with each other in these two areas. Both currently are in the single market. Both have a reputation of stable democracies. Both have a legal system based on Common rather than Roman law and speak English. The UK for example has been very successful in attracting high quality Japanese FDI, whereas IE has been very successful in attracting high quality US FDI.
There is a belief in Ireland, also championed by David McWilliams, that the recent three years have tilted the choice very much in Ireland’s favour. Whether you are a multinational hoping to set up in Europe and access the Single Market, or a high flying professional looking for a country to move to, the UK is looking vastly less attractive. Ireland simply had to keep it’s reputation intact to gain competitive advantage, but it has done more than that.
The Scots are hopping mad. They have, in the Irish view been treated appallingly. The so called Union of equals and the UK has turned out to be camouflage for a greater England. A tyranny of the majority. There is a belief that when an IndiRef2 is called there will be a majority in favour of independence.
Northern Ireland will almost certainly rejoin the rest of Ireland, probably after Scotland leaves the UK.
Little England will go into economic decline or at least stagnation. It needs to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer “top dog” and can’t simply bully foreigners around. I am hopeful that just as in Germany after WWII the English may be able to reinvent themselves and realise that they are indeed a Great Nation. This greatness however needs acceptance that all other nations are great in their own right, and specialness does not imply superiority or the ability to bully others. The Irish and Scots are proud nations in their own right, have the ability to project a very positive nationalism without the need to dominate.
Eventually I believe that England will become a far better place but it may sadly take a few decades. Major constitutional reform my also be necessary.
Will Virtual Liffey Gunboats Work?
The short answer is NO. There is in addition to the arguments above a determination in the Irish not to give into threats or bullying. They as in 1916 will be counterproductive and produce kickback.
The idea that the Irish should expend any political capital to help the Tory party is extraordinary. Apart from a brief period under John Major the Tories have treated Ireland despicably. The Tories even derive their name from the Irish word tóraidhe meaning robber, brigand or thief. Having said that there is no ill will towards the “One Nation” and pragmatic business wing of the Tory party, there is also admiration for various individual members such as Dominic Grieve. The hatred is directed towards the English Nationalist and Imperial supremacist wing of the Tory party. Many of whom feel they have a God given right to rule the world. From the Irish point of view they are a textbook examples of Dunning Kruger syndrome. Sadly it is exactly this wing that is currently in charge.
As Fintan O’Toole says for the first time since 1171, Ireland is more powerful than Britain. It has been horrifying to see how the UK has shed its reputation, negotiating strength, goodwill and trust. There is absolutely no need for Ireland to back down.
There is also little little understanding in the UK as to how politically impossible it is for Leo Varadkar. There probably isn’t parish in the country that would elect him as a Councillor if he gave into UK pressure.
Ireland will uses its new power generously and constructively. There is absolutely no desire to punish Britain.
On Johnson’s recent Dublin visit it was interesting that Merrion St was cordoned off to prevent hostile crowds from protesting – it may well have been far worse than Luxembourg, particularly if Border Communities were present.
Whereas May was pitied, Johnson is detested, is a known liar and totally mistrusted. HMG is already flagrantly violating the GFA, an international treaty. Some form of gentleman’s agreement won’t cut it.
Nevertheless as Varadkar said he wanted to be Athena to Johnson’s Hercules. Ireland wants to help, even if it thinks the UK has gone totally mad.