By BRIAN MOORE
BREXIT is, according to former EU President Pat Cox, ‘very serious for Ireland – but not desperate.’
The retired Europhile was speaking at a gathering of councillors in Bantry for the autumn conference of the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) last week.
Mr Cox said that while he, and indeed many others, were surprised at the UK’s decision to leave the EU, he was sure that a workable deal could be negotiated between the EU and Britain.
‘This process of leaving the EU will take a very long time,’ Mr Cox said. ‘The activation of Article 50 is only the beginning, and because the UK was once a member, there will be, I am confident, an exclusive deal. Whatever way we look at it, there are just two options at play here, both of which will cause problems for Irish business and especially Irish agriculture,’ he told the meeting, in the Westlodge Hotel.
‘In Ireland’s case, if the UK decides on a Norwegian approach to the EU, we will see free movement of people, but not of goods. This will mean border checks at the very least on exports or imports. If the UK decide to go it completely alone, then there will be a ‘hard border’ for both goods and people,’ Mr Cox continued.
However, with the announcement at the weekend that Britain intends to enact Article 50 no later than March 2017, and not allow the free movement of people across its borders, it now appears that Prime Minister May has chosen the second option and we can expect border controls to return. While the event at the Westlodge in Bantry was attended by councillors from across the country, not one councillor from the West Cork region participated in the Brexit talk with Mr Cox.
‘The negotiations will not be quick or easy,’ Pat Cox continued. ‘It would take a minimum of two years from the start of Article 50 for an actual exit to begin. The Irish government must make this a priority and must act now to prepare for the possibility of border controls and the restricted movement of people and goods to and from Northern Ireland,’ Mr Cox concluded.