“Brexit-fueled nationalism will make us all poorer”
Speech by Brian Hayes MEP at the Annual Conference of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce – Clayton Hotel, Dublin Thursday 16th March 2017
“Economic nationalism follows political nationalism – it’s as sure as night follows day. We have seen it in our common European history. We have seen it on these islands. And the great success of the EU has been to keep a lid on the ever-present nationalism that has caused such chaos in the first half of the last century.
“The Brexit referendum was in many respects a manifestation of English nationalism. There is a now a real possibility that the outworking of the Brexit referendum may result in the breakup of the United Kingdom. The dangers of an awoken nationalism on these islands – be it English, Scottish or Irish nationalism – make the task of business stability and business confidence more difficult. Trade does not grow when countries are putting up barriers. In fact since 2008 the rate of world trade has grown by half its rate in the previous decade. As countries retreat from each other, we are all poorer.
“New fears are often old fears. And in my view fear – either real or perceived – is permeating the political environment right now on these islands. We here in the Republic are fearful about how Brexit will affect us. It seems that the consequences to this country were both ignored and dismissed when the UK made its decision.
“Brexit has unleashed political uncertainty and business have to weight up very carefully, how this new mood is going effect trade on these islands and across the EU.
“It is in the DNA of Irish nationalism to see Britain’s difficulties as Ireland’s opportunities. There are some who cannot avoid the temptation for a little Brit bashing. We have seen political posturing and showboating from some on the issue of a border poll on Irish unity. Far from advancing the cause of Irish unity, such calls will only deepen divisions within Northern Ireland and make real reconciliation impossible.
“In the years ahead Irish based businesses trading with the UK and with the EU will have to assess political developments within the UK. They will also have to make a judgment call on the progress of Brexit negotiations, while at the same time being fully aware of political developments within the EU. The upcoming elections in France and Germany also have the potential to deliver greater uncertainty; hopefully they will bring increased stability.
“There are 6 fundamental principles that we need to accept going into these talks:
1. Brexit is going to happen and it’s all our responsibilities to make sure that the harmful effects are minimised as we work through the process;
2. None of us can for one second countenance the possibility that these talks be allowed to fail.
3. Ireland will remain in the EU and will over time become a core country in the Eurozone system.
4. These negotiations are not a sprint but a marathon and could well take between 6-10 years in duration;
5. This process will outlive this and the next Dail and we must have absolute continuity of policy from opposition to government;
6. The UK must never be regarded as some third country in its new relationship with the EU.
“From Europe’s perspective I believe that the atmosphere can be improved for these talks if the EU makes it clear from the start about a number of things. Firstly I believe that a transition phase has to happen. The British know it, the EU knows it. It is simply unimaginable that at the end of the divorce proceedings, which will hopefully be within 2 years, that there would be no transitional agreement for say at least 3 years. This more than anything else would give some certainly to business on these islands.
“Secondly I believe it’s crucial that the EU make it clear, especially from Ireland’s perspective, that the divorce settlement, effectively the end of Article 50, can only come about by way of unanimity. The current procedure allows the EU Council in deciding on the agreement to decide by way of a strong qualified majority vote. The Council should make it clear from the start that all 27 Member States have rights in this process and that ultimately all concerns have to be met. This from Ireland’s perspective is crucial in establishing that we cannot be rail road member states into accepting something that is not in our national interest.”