Division, disruption and demons pastby Denis MacShane / April 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
There is cold fury in Dublin at being ignored by the UK government in London. Brexit’s victory for English nationalism has now unleashed Scottish and Sinn Féin Irish nationalisms and a palpable sense of clocks going backwards can be felt in any conversation in Dublin. This has been largely ignored by the commentators in the UK press, especially the pro-Brexit papers, and in other European capitals. Yet the Republic of Ireland is the European Union state most directly affected by Brexit. The Irish and UK economies are in effect one, as the UK recognised during the financial crisis when it offered bespoke assistance to Irish banks.
Ireland entered the European Economic Community at the same time as the UK in 1973. Those four decades of joint membership have transformed the economic and political status of Ireland. Dublin has used EU membership to haul the nation out of poverty. After 1945, every second Irishman had to emigrate to find work in Britain or North America. Today, Ireland has to import foreign labour—120,000 Poles arrived in Ireland after EU enlargement in 2004. This is a much higher share of Ireland’s 4.5m population than the 850,000 Poles in the UK’s population of 65m.
Ireland has cleverly sheltered behind Britain’s skirts in finessing its own relationship with the EU, notably in offering low tax status to companies like Apple and other US firms. Ireland’s upgrade of its education system in the 1960s has reaped a harvest of high-quality graduates adapted to the modern E-economy.
The country has also revolutionised its agricultural output—half the beef and most of the cheddar cheese on UK supermarket shelves is now imported from Ireland. The Brexit effect on this mighty dairy industry could be crushing. Over half the milk produced in the North, where agriculture is the most important export sector, heads south. Open a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream and you are drinking milk from an Ulster cow transformed by a southern Irish process which crosses the border several times during its production. So any withdrawal from the EU Single Market and/or Customs Union will have serious repercussions on both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Even more importantly, Ireland and the UK’s joint membership of the EU has utterly changed the relationship between…