An article published in the Irish Times this week by a former Irish ambassador to the European Union and to the United Kingdom is not what I would have expected from a former Irish ambassador, let alone to the UK.
(Click here for that article by Bobby McDonagh, ‘British bloodletting biggest worry of Brexit blame game,’ April 8).
Neighbours should be neighbourly. When it comes to Brexit, sadly, the Irish establishment has forgotten its manners and the run of itself.
There are two reasons for the abrasive coverage of Brexit in the Irish media, coverage of a kind that were it reciprocated by the British media about Ireland would generate a furore in the Republic.
Membership of the EU has unhinged the Irish establishment: they have a sense of power that is not based on reality. They forget that the Republic is a small state and the UK is a powerful one.
Membership of the EU has not changed the relationship between small and large member states in the EU but the establishments of the small member states think that it has.
The other reason is that the Irish establishment know that if Brexit happens — any kind of Brexit — the establishment in Dublin is, frankly, toast.
The spectre of the Nice 1 and Lisbon 1 referendum decisions, which were rejected by the governments of the day, will come back to haunt them and they are justifiably terrified.
So, they have exceeded the bounds of propriety and good neighbourliness in their panic to ensure that Brexit is reversed. (The backstop was cooked up by the Irish government and the European Commission precisely for that purpose.)
In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I believe the UK made the right decision when it voted to leave the EU and that some form of Irexit (formal or informal) will not only follow Brexit (if and when it occurs) but will be right for the Republic also, and indeed for all of Ireland.
The Republic’s establishment will find out the hard way how foolish they have been when ‘Brexit 2’ comes around if Brexit 1 is thwarted.
The British government will have done its homework by then.
They will, for example, check out a geographical area between two countries a) similar in size to our border with Northern Ireland and b) one with a similar level of trade to North/South trade.
They will check out if trusted trader status is the norm for such a border. They will bone up on work going on in the WTO and the OECD to replace customs posts with new technology.
And they will question the future of the Common Travel Area between the UK and the Republic. They won’t buy into the case for the backstop from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar or his successor. It will be as humiliating for us then as the current mess is for Britain now.
Mr McDonagh is right though in the last sentence of his piece. Brexit has (for example) brought the re-unification of Ireland closer.
The British can live with Irish re-unification as they accepted in the Downing Street Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement that it might happen. However, the possible loss of Scotland and the possibility of civil strife in England if 17.4 million Leave voters (most of them English) are denied Brexit are other matters entirely.
The Leave voters won’t be very happy with some of the Brexiter MPs either. However, we were there in 1922 when the anti-treatyites opted for civil war over the Treaty with Britain.
No state has a monopoly on stupidity and we certainly have nothing to boast about. The decline of Britain’s status in the world is another factor that will take some time to work through the global system.
I don’t wish to get involved in the debate about whether the Scots will go their own way if Brexit goes ahead or even if it doesn’t. Nor to speculate in a newspaper article about Britain’s role in the world after Brexit.
As a retired public servant, like Bobby McDonagh, I do wish to be neighbourly but it is fair to say (as the title of Bobby McDonagh’s article makes clear) that the Brexit mess is turning into a serious crisis for Britain.
That is another reason why I was surprised at the tone and content of the article.
Commentary in the Republic’s media about Brexit should be more measured not just because neighbours should be neighbourly but also because membership of the EU has not made the Republic any more powerful than it was before 1973.
The reverse is the case. We no longer have a currency or control our borders and we have allowed Shannon Airport to become a US military base because of the mistaken belief that our (admittedly over-reliance on US) FDI policy requires us to do so.
It doesn’t, but that is simply another Irish establishment error of judgement. They are mounting up at a frightening rate.
• Michael Clarke is a retired civil servant who spent most of his working life on EU issues, trade policy and, on occasion, North South economic co-operation, the issues that are closely linked to the backstop in the UK/EU Agreement