AS outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron predicted before last week’s referendum, which saw the majority of voters opting (52% to 48%) for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the only certainty that a Brexit would bring would be uncertainty and this has come to pass with the outcome set to have huge implications for so many people – and not just in Britain. Already, the UK has suffered the expected initial fall-out, such as the immediate drop in the value of sterling, turmoil on the financial markets and the downgrading of its credit rating, however there are many other potential knock-on effects that could lead to major political problems further down the line, depending on how things play out, including an undermining of the Irish peace process.
With the fall in the value of sterling against the euro, Irish exports will not be as attractive to the UK market and this will especially impact on our agri food and fishing sectors, while tourism will also be adversely affected, and these are all important to West Cork and could have a negative impact on employment in the area. While the Brexit decision is disappointing to the majority of Irish people, we have no choice but to accept the democratic decision of the people of Great Britain for better or worse, as the wedding vows go, but in this case we are talking about a divorce instead and it will be quite a painful one, both economically and politically.
To ease the uncertainty, ideally, a timetable needs to be urgently agreed on the manner and timing of Britain’s departure. But, the big question is: who will the EU be talking to about this?
Prime Minister David Cameron – who wanted Britain to remain in the EU – seemingly does not want to be the one to have to officially notify Brussels of his country’s intention to leave the EU and, having announced in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit decision that he will be stepping down as PM in the autumn, he would obviously prefer that his successor would do this.
Until the official notification of departure, meaningful negotiations on the manner and timing of it cannot take place, so maybe Mr Cameron should either hand in the UK’s notice immediately and/or step down sooner and let the new regime set about making the arrangements as quickly as possible so that all parties affected by the Brexit can get some idea of where and how they stand.
Having selfishly used the Brexit project to enhance his own political standing, Boris Johnson may fancy himself as the Prime Minister-in-waiting, but even he and fellow leave campaigners like Ukip’s Nigel Farrage looked to have been taken by surprise by the Brexit result and, initially, seemed to be at a loss as to what needs to be done next and by whom when their fantasy became reality.
In Ireland, we also need to be ready to react to and deal with the changes in circumstances – most known, but some others which may arise as a result of the negotiations between Britain and the EU – because, as their nearest neighbour, we are the country that will be affected most by the Brexit and our government needs to give some senior minister the responsibility of trying to minimise the fall-out for us.
What is needed most now is a calm and measured response by all the parties as they deal – hopefully – in a businesslike manner with Britain’s exit from the European Union and to avoid burning any bridges that may need to be crossed again at some future date.
THE resurgence of English nationalism, mainly over the thorny issue of immigration, tipped the populist vote towards the Brexit and made it a protest vote against establishment politicians both in England and the EU. Whatever about unravelling what they saw – with some justification – as a dictatorial and undemocratic European project, the Brexit voters may now have to live with the unintended impact of impinging on the very unity of the United Kingdom, as while England and Wales voted for Britain to leave the European Union, other parts of it wanted to remain, including Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is adamant that the will of her people to remain in the EU should be respected and she stated at the weekend that a second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom is ‘highly likely’ because of this. In September 2014, Scottish voters decided by 55.3% to 44.7% to remain as part of the UK, but the dynamic has changed now with their rejection of the Brexit, which they don’t want forced upon them.
The people of Gibraltar, although far smaller in number, overwhelmingly voted remain and there is speculation now that their interests might be better served by joining up with next door neighbour Spain in order to be able to stay in the EU. This would require a plebiscite on what is quite an emotive issue for the people there.
Nearer to home, a majority in Northern Ireland (55.77% to 44.23%) voted to remain in the European Union. The main unionist party, the DUP, led by First Minister Arlene Foster campaigned for a leave vote, while Sinn Féin – advocating a remain vote – got a more solid response from its followers and others to prevail, prompting Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to call for a poll on a United Ireland in order to give an opportunity for the wishes of the majority who want to stay in the EU to be respected.
The timing of his opportunist call was described as ‘unhelpful’ at this stage by Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan as the situation in the North is a lot more complicated than in other places and the Irish peace process remains a fragile work in progress. Such a vote would inflame hardline loyalists and could easily mark a return to the sectarian violence that we had hoped had been left behind.
The downside of the Brexit would be an inevitable return to passport controls at North-South border crossings to keep out immigrants coming through the Republic to try to enter the UK in Northern Ireland. This would erode the freedom of movement currently enjoyed by people north and south of the border, which was a useful physical and psychological dividend of the peace process, and would also re-emphasise the divisions between the two peoples that we all thought had been largely done away with for good.
Outside of the United Kingdom also, there is a distinct possibility that the Brexit vote will encourage other countries in the European Union with strong right-leaning parties to have referenda on the whether they should stay or leave? Should this happen, the EU may not yet have seen its worst nightmares.