The Irish Times podcast Inside Politics is always entertaining as well as being informative. Since I started listening I have brushed up on my understanding of the Republic of Ireland political landscape and the one thing that has struck me again and again is that the Republic doesn’t have a Continental Europe approach to politics. In short, and I am sure this will upset any Irish person who might read this, their structure is the England and Wales structure with PR thrown in. Of course the differences are much more subtle than that but anyone who knows anything about how politics works in England and Wales will understand the Irish system. This should not come as a shock given the very close ties, a euphemism for being part of the same union up to 1922, less than 100 years ago.
The reason why I mention this is because I suspect that it might explain, in part, why the contributors to the Wednesday (10th July 2019) podcast were so mad at the British political class (actually it was the English political class to be precise – there is a difference.) . Their anger would appear to be displaced anger as they are starting to really realise that as a result of the crazy notion of Britain leaving the European Union without some form of a deal then the Republic of Ireland will face an existential crises the likes of which it hasn’t really had to address since it was formed. It can be summed up as the choice between being a European country or a British Isles country (The term British Isles is used here in the geographic sense rather than any colonial sense – I prefer to describe the British Isles as the Irish Sea archipelago.)
Up until now the Republic hasn’t had to address this but come the 1st November they may well have to and it is perhaps starting dawn on the political class that the European Union might not be as supportive post Brexit as they have been up until now – especially if they insist that the European Union border with Northern Ireland is policied correctly – perhaps to the same extents as the European Union border with Russia in Finland, or the Baltic States or Poland (Russia after all doesn’t have any trade deals with the EU and so use WTO rules – such as those that will apply with Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the 1st of November.) Should no deal Brexit happen the border will have the same status as far as the EU is concerned – no matter what the Good Friday agreement might say. To add insult to injury as far as the people on podcast were concerned it is clear that the British government don’t intend to police the border at all in any other way that they have been doing up to now (this is an untenable position in the long term as I do believe it falls foul of the WTO rules but that is something that lawyers and and will argue over for years – in the meantime the Republic of Ireland is left to try and sort out the EU problem courtesy of the British.)
This is where the existential crises becomes apparent. The political class of the Republic of Ireland want to be good Europeans but they don’t want to build the infrastructure on the border. They have come up with ‘technological‘ solutions (sounds familiar) for checks away from the border but it is far from clear whether the European Commision will accept them. In short to be a good European will likely cause an increase in tension on the border and the Republic doesn’t want to be catalyst for that but they are trapped.
The easiest solution to all of this, of course, is that all vehicles/goods/people leaving the British Isles and entering continental Europe should be treated the same but this would mean that the Republic of Ireland would no longer be part of the Single Market et al. In short the Republic of Ireland would become semi detached members of the European Union which might not be acceptable to the European Commision but it is far from clear whether this would be the case with other European Union countries. This solution after all isolates all the problems with Brexit in one basket and can be dealt with as such – especially if a Euro crisis rears its ugly head in the near future (there are a number of crises that could be entered here but this seems the most pertinent as the European Union would require the help of the City of London to help deal with this. The City will continue to be the preeminent financial centre in Europe deal or no deal and no doubt will make a lot of money either way.)
So if the British do leave without a deal with the EU as may well happen then the Republic of Ireland will face a horrible choice – be good Europeans and hope that this is reciprocated in Brussels or accept that much as they don’t like the idea the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is actually much more important to their long term development as a nation.
One final thought on this whole mess that we the British have caused. In the 2011 Britain lent the Republic of Ireland £1bn to help out with the effects of the financial crises. This loan will be finally repaid by 2021 but in the meantime the British government has made a tidy profit on the deal of around £500 million. If ever you wanted a lesson as to why the Republic of Ireland doesn’t trust the British then this is about as good as it gets because most of the money seems to have gone to support British banks with bad loans in the Republic. However, in their time of need the British were there to help – at a price. No wonder the existential crises!