With Brexit negotiations underway, the Irish Government should regret putting all its eggs in the EU basket

With Brexit negotiations underway, the Irish Government should regret putting all its eggs in the EU basket

The Irish political class never really countenanced that Brexit would occur. Rather, there was a general assumption that the referendum might produce a close result, but that the Remainers would carry the day. There was initial confusion in Dublin after the vote, therefore, as the Irish Government apparatus scrambled to come to terms with the unexpected outcome.

The direct reaction to the vote was to instruct all Irish Ambassadors around the world to put out the clear and unambiguous message that Ireland was “sticking with Team EU”, regardless of the outcome of any subsequent EU negotiations with the British. This was done to quash any speculation that Ireland’s position inside the EU might be in doubt.

In retrospect, it was clearly a mistake to commit Ireland to such a blanket policy, which advertised that Ireland had no bottom or red lines in the discussions, and that the EU would do Ireland’s negotiations for it. This in no way reflected Ireland’s special relationship with the United Kingdom.

Now the island of Ireland faces a difficult dilemma as the practical implications of Brexit are gradually starting to become clear and they don’t make for comforting reading. The policy of placing all the Irish eggs in the EU basket is making less sense every day. This policy of leaving it to Brussels seems so out of place with the national interest that it begs the question as to why the Irish are so determined to hold on to the EU apron strings.

Constant meetings in Brussels, involving Ministers and senior officials, have made these groups much more Eurocentric than the Irish population at large. Politicians and officials value their seats at the EU table. A compliant and generally supportive media, especially the influential Irish Times, has helped give the impression of a very pro-EU country.

That this eurocentric view, however, does not permeate the general population can be seen in the way in which, during the banking crisis and the subsequent deep recession in Ireland, young people, North and South, headed for the old emigrant destinations: Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While a small number went to mainland Europe, the vast majority of those who migrated did so to Anglophone countries, much as their forebears did in times of past crises. In addition, Ireland, apart from the United Kingdom, does not have any natural allies in the EU – it is not active in many of the international groupings.

The Brexit process and its outcome represents a catastrophic failure for Irish Government policy. There was an astonishing lack of wider vision and appreciation of the need to support David Cameron during his attempted renegotiation. While it is debatable whether Ireland could have made much difference to the eventual outcome, the country’s national interests cried out for a pro-active response, and for Ireland to act as an intermediary between the Cameron Government and the EU. It was at this point that Ireland should have detached itself from Team EU, and indicated strongly that its interests and those of the EU, in this instance, were not the same.

The same failed formula, Team EU, is to be rolled out again in the Brexit negotiations. In science, the definition of stupidity is to repeat the same experiment over and over again and expect a different result. Hopefully, it is not too late to re-think the position, and to focus more in terms of the Irish national interest, and less on how to be the best boy in the EU classroom.