Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Meanwhile, behind a bin in Brussels post-Brexit…

The scene: The Irish EU commissioner is strolling down the Rue Archimedes to work one crisp Tuesday morning, two years after Brexit.

Voice from behind bin:   Psst!

Paddy stops, strolls over to the bin. A man in a long coat and hat, with an enormous false moustache is hiding.

Charles: Paddy! It’s me! Charles! (lifts hat)

Paddy: Charles? What the f**k are you doing? Is that a real moustache?

Charles: No, I had to go in disguise. If the euroskeps knew I was here I’d be done for treason!

Paddy: Oh yeah, I suppose. Eh, what can I do for you?

Charles: Is there any chance you could stop having meetings about things that affect us?

Paddy: Sorry?

Charles: It’s just that you keep discussing things that affect us, and we’re not in the meeting, and it’s very awkward. See this? Stuff like this. (removes a sheaf of paper he had shoved down the back of his trousers)

Paddy: Where have you been keeping this Charles? Look at the state of it.

Charles: Yes, sorry, Cameron and I have to be very careful that the Taliban don’t see us reading draft EU directives. It’s kind of heresy now. The official line is that nothing the EU does affects us. So we have to read them in the jacks in Downing Street. They’ve people everywhere.

Paddy: What’s this anyway?

Charles: It’s the draft proposal on pension funds, putting a tax on funds leaving the EU. That’ll hurt the City.

Paddy: So? This is an internal EU matter.

Charles: Yes, but it affects us! There’s a load of countries in a room talking about stuff that affects us and we’re not there!

Paddy: Yeah, I can see that. Alright, I’ll see if I can put in a word.

Charles: Thanks Paddy, we really appreciate it. Have to go: I’m meeting the Dutch behind that skip on Square Ambiorix.

Paddy: Sure. Take care, foreign secretary.

 
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We’ll miss Angela when she’s gone.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 17, 2016 in European Union

angelaEvery now and then you hear the fairly accurate accusation that there is one rule for big EU countries like Germany, and another rule for smaller EU countries. It’s true in many instances, but what is striking about the remark is that people feel that they need to say it, as if it is a new piece of information. Is there anyone who believes that some wag in Prague in the 1930s, or Belgium or Serbia in 1914 said it and other people around him said “You know, you’re damn right! I’ve never thought of it like that before!”

There’s nothing new about big countries having more power than small countries. Yet we say it like it’s a new occurrence in the EU, and that’s because historically the EU has been an incredibly effective means of magnifying small nation power whilst restraining big ones. Now, let’s be honest: the EU and its predecessors have always been more influenced by the larger countries, but also funded more by them. That was the deal. But as an arrangement it has been a success to varying degrees for all its participants.

The system hinges on big countries restraining themselves, and that may be about to change. Angela Merkel is in big political trouble in Germany, possibly the first democratic leader to be removed from office for showing too much kindness. She may well be ousted from office, and there’ll be many both in and outside Germany who will be delighted at her removal.

But you know what? We’ll live to regret it, because Merkel is a European German,  and possibly the last German chancellor who thinks of German and European interests as being intertwined. Her successor, whomever that will be, could well not be of the post World War II guilt complex generation.

He or she will regard putting Germany first as being as perfectly normal as the Taoiseach regards putting Ireland first, or the French President putting France first. The difference being that Germany is the most powerful nation in Europe, and  a Germany that feels no obligation towards other European countries is a very different Germany from the one we have now.

There are plenty of people who disagree with that. Some of them talk about the Fourth Reich and all the rest, but you know what? They’re fucking morons.

In the words of the historian Timothy Garton Ash this is the best Germany we’ve ever had. Generous, cooperative, part of a European family.

The Germany of Kohl and, yes, Merkel. Only when we have lost it, like so many things, will we realise how valuable it was.

 
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Never mind Brexit: Le Pen is the real threat to Europe.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 7, 2015 in European Union

Marine-LePenNever mind Brexit. That’s minor stuff because the European Union can deal with a British withdrawal. The real moment of truth will be May 2017, the second round of the French presidential election. That’s our 1933 moment, when everything can change for Europe.

Now, let me be clear: Marine Le Pen is not a Nazi. She’s way, way too smart to be one. We can beat Nazis. Marine Le Pen is much scarier, because she provides hope. She is by far the best communicator in French politics because her policies and ideas all sound credible, simple, and joined up. Unlike Merkel or Hollande, Marine Le Pen sounds like she has a plan to deal with the refugee crisis, and radical Islam. Will it work? Almost certainly not, but it sounds like it might, and that beats hand-wringing every time.

Le Pen described Brexit as being similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She does herself a disservice, because Britain is not vital to the EU. But France is. With no France, the EU is over. She’s already said that she’ll take France out of the eurozone, and seems to have suggested that the sort of changes she wants to the EU will destroy it in all but name anyway. If she doesn’t get them, she’s taking France out. In short, May 6, 2017 is the day the future of Europe will be decided, in France.

Before UK eurosceptics celebrate, however, they should read the Le Pen fine print. British eurosceptics are constantly attributing, wrongly, their own economically right-wing beliefs to all eurosceptics. France under Marine Le Pen will revert to a hard-left economic experiment not seen since the early days of Mitterand in 1981. Protectionism and tariffs will be back, and with that the end of the European Single Market project driven (ironically) by the British in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Le Pen is the biggest of big government interventionists, and no friend of free trade, and if the walls go up in France, they’ll go up across the rest of Europe in retaliation. That coupled with the breakup of the eurozone caused by French withdrawal will herald the darkest of economic days in Europe since the 1930s, as countries jettison the common currency in a desperate attempt to devalue against each other.

Whenever I write pieces like this I’m always accused of hysteria, primarily because those doing it (not all eurosceptics) seem to believe that the key benefit of the EU, the single market and the right to trade freely, is some sort of cast-in-stone natural phenomenon. It isn’t. The end of the single market is the greatest threat to European prosperity and stability since the 1930s.

Take Ireland: we export 90% of what we produce here. Think those US multinationals are here to supply into the Irish market? A Le Pen triggered era of protectionism will cripple us more than most.

Marine Le Pen has a serious chance of being the next president of France not because she appeals to racists (which she does) but because she has broadened her appeal. There are people who have no time for the thuggish anti-semite hardliners of the FN who will cast a Le Pen ballot because they fear that France and Europe have lost control of her borders and Le Pen is the only politician who seems to a) admit it, and b) do something about it. That’s an awkward, uncomfortable but nevertheless correct fact for us liberals to confront. Yes, we must care for refugees. Yes, we must provide sanctuary. But unless we can also convince ordinary Europeans that this continent can control who comes to live amongst us, the 6th of May 2017 is the day everything changes.

 
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Actually, the fact that the EU is democratic and transparent is what makes it unpopular.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 4, 2015 in European Union

For 1000 points, who is Roberto Acevedo? What about Dr. Fang Liu? OK, here’s an easier one: Jens Stoltenberg. What about Jean-Claude Juncker? Ever heard of him? I’m sure many of you, being educated and informed readers of quality, will know who all four are. But failing that, if you only knew one, I’d wager I know which one it was. Almost certainly Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the “undemocratic” European Commission.

For the record, the others are, in order of appearance, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, the Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and the Secretary General of NATO.

Next question: which one of them was appointed by a directly elected parliament? Which one of them answers to a directly elected parliament? Again, you know the answer.

Yet, all across Europe it’ll be the EU that will be denounced as undemocratic. The other organisations will hardly get a mention despite the fact that all have actual decision making powers. For example, in this age where we’re all talking about tougher border controls, hands up who sets the global standards for machine-readable and bio-metric passports? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Not national governments, for a start. Step forward Dr. Liu.

Put it another way: would the EU be more or less popular if, say, the European Parliament never existed? Given that the parliament’s open debating of all proposals, loopy or not (and there’s no shortage of loopy proposals) is a steady source of hysterical stories for elements of the media, it’s not unreasonable to say that no parliament would have meant less hysterical story material.

But the EU, being BY FAR the most open and democratic international organisation in the world has by that very transparency cut a rod for its own back.

And, by the way, as a simple aside, remember that it was the democratic aspect of the EU which gave millions of British eurosceptics parliamentary representation when their own national parliament just ignored them.

The truth is that if the EU had operated with the same level of transparency of, say, the WTO, it would be less unpopular because nobody would know what it actually does.

Take NATO’s parliament, for example. NATO’s what now? Yeah, that’s right: NATO’s parliamentary assembly. Know how many UKIP members it has? Not one, because they’re chosen by parliament, as the European Parliament was before direct elections in 1979. How many UKIP MEPs do we think there’d be if the House of Commons still chose MEPS?

There’s a lesson there somewhere. If the EU were to collapse, national ministers would still need to figure out structures for cooperation in a globalized world.

Only this time, they’d do it real quiet.

 
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Should we nationalise Islam in Europe?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 23, 2015 in British Politics, European Union

Listening to the Islamophobia spewing out of some US GOP candidates, and others in Europe makes my blood boil. As an Irish Republican and a European, I find the idea of anymosquetower person being categorised and pigeonholed by their religion to be repugnant. That’s why my teeth go on edge when people talk about problems with Muslims and Islam. I don’t see that problem: I see groups of individuals who have made a twisted assessment of a religion and hijacked it for their own vicious fascist ends.

Having said that, even liberals such as I can’t ignore the fact that Islam seems to be capable of acting as a peculiarly effective breeding ground for extremism.

The role mosques and madrassas play in this can’t be ignored. Many are moderate places that preach tolerance and respect for other faiths. But some aren’t, and we cannot tolerate any place, regardless of how holy or revered it be, being used as a base to plot against western liberal values.

How do we balance our values of religious  freedom with the need to exterminate extremism?

One possible solution could be, as happens in Turkey and the UK, for certain religions to be brought under direct state control. At present, the British prime minister appoints the head of the Church of England. It’s a nominal appointment at the moment, but establishes a precedent. Given the unique position of Islam, is it time for European governments to take direct control of its institutions?

Let me be clear: we are not talking about turning Islam into a state religion. Many of our countries, my own included, would have a serious problem now with any state religion. But the possibility of the state taking direct control of the training and appointment of Imams and the running of Islamic schools and mosques, and yes, their funding, should be considered. Better us running them than some fanatic funded by the Saudis.

In many instances, the existing Imams will remain in place, and nothing on the surface will change. There are downsides, of course. Will radicals flee the “official” mosques and set up radical secret ones? Possibly. But they’ll be illegal and will be hunted down. Let’s be clear that those who regard an Imam who cooperates with the state as a traitor are exactly the people we need to be targeting. Let’s also be clear that we are not talking about the state imposing a Christianised or liberal form of Islam. That will be the business of the communities running the mosques under the Imam’s guidance. The state’s only interest is that mosques not be abused to preach against broad western democratic values. They should have the same freedom as any Christian church.

Yes, it’ll be messy and controversial, and maybe it won’t work. And I do find the idea of the state interfering in the private religious practices of its Muslim citizens to be pretty repugnant.

But these are the times we live in, and unusual compromises to defend European values must be considered.

 
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The death of Schengen: don’t let Daesh decide how we live.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 21, 2015 in British Politics, European Union

It’s a curious thing watching the reactions of UK eurosceptics to the current difficulties the Schengen area is going through. They sure loving queuing, those guys.

The concept they’re pushing is straightforward enough: if we bring back rigorous border controls we can catch terrorists at the borders. But even that logic is shaky. Won’t we have to stop and search every vehicle, every truck schengenfor secret compartments, to make that work?

Good luck with that.

Actually, the anti-Schengen people seem to be relying on a)luck, b)the idea that all terrorists are essentially foreigners, and c)we’ll be able to determine whether someone is an Islamist through some sort of non-intelligence based test. I look forward to seeing what that could be: maybe make them French kiss another man and judge their reaction? Ask them to tell us their favourite Woody Allen film? See if they can dance to YMCA?

UK opponents of Schengen just can’t see beyond the blue flag, as usual. If we called it the Dad’s Army Zone and put up pictures of Gene Hunt on the border maybe that would help?

The way they tell it, Schengen is some sort of rogue self-controlling entity, as opposed to a tool for member states. Schengen can be temporarily suspended (rightly) by a sovereign member state. It also allows the sharing of information, the most effective way of tracking and determining would-be terrorists. Yet ask UKIP about sharing information with Frontex or Europol and they go all Chief Inspector Dreyfus on you.

But, after Brexit who do they think they’ll be dealing with? Do they think they can phone up President Obama, inform him that they refuse to deal with the FBI, and demand that all 50 state police forces deal directly with them? If the rest of Europe decides that Europol or Frontex is to be our central clearing house, then so be it.

Of course, if they really believe that random checkpoints are the solution, then surely they should be implemented inside member states too, along with national ID cards to allow security forces to identify the illegals, right? Checkpoints outside supermarkets, on the tube, train stations, on the street.

There’ll be another irony: eurosceptics bringing in that most continental of devices, one’s “papiers” after leaving the EU.

Here’s an awkward reality: if we can stop relatively small contained terror cells before they strike, it’ll be through intelligence, and that means mass surveillance of phones, social media, gaming sites. That’s how we catch them, not randomly hoping they turn up at our borders in “I love IS” tee-shirts. That’s the debate we need to have. How to do that  but prevent abuse of that information.

But that’s not the biggest single reason why we should be wary of scrapping Schengen. Schengen is part of the European way of  life, and if we are going to scrap it, let us scrap it for a definite guaranteed result.

But to get rid of it just to do something is to accept that a handful of hateful fanatics in Daesh get to shape our society.  Al Qaeda got to change the United States: are Americans living in a  better country having permitted waterboarding? Do Americans feel safer? Have you listened to the leading candidates for the GOP nomination?

Of course we must examine every option to make Europe safer. But we should be very reluctant to casually toss away one of the things that makes Europe the freest place on Earth.

 
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We have been here before.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 13, 2015 in European Union, Events

Repost: wrote this in response to Charlie Hebdo. It still stands.

Amidst the debate over recent events in France, there’s been, particularly online, a sub-text. In short, it’s summarised as “Yes, we know all Muslims aren’t terrorists, but…” The Irish have an insight into the thinking, having experienced it directed towards us when we were in the UK during the highpoints of Provisional IRA  terrorism. Plenty of British people looked suspiciously at the Irish and struggled to separate the murderers of Enniskillen or Hyde Park from the millions of Irish who didn’t support the IRA. Statistically, as with Muslims now, there was a higher probability that a terrorist would come from an Irish Catholic background.

There was no shortage of talk that the Irish as a people “weren’t doing enough” to condemn and oppose terrorism. Yet, what would a crack down on the Irish population in the mainland UK have done for reducing terrorism? As much as the hardline did in Northern Ireland for IRA recruitment?

The awkward reality is that Europe is faced with a choice. We can single out and target our Muslim citizens, or we can accept and treat them as we treat everybody else and fight the terrorists as simple criminals.

Speaking for myself, I don’t want to live in a Europe where the targeting of one religion is regarded as a solution to our problems, even dressed up as something like fighting terrorism. We have been here before, the only difference being that our great grandparents in the 1930s had never experienced the outcome. We have. We’ve seen the footage and we’ve stood in the places that result when you single out one religion. It starts small, with registration. Then certain jobs are restricted. Then they are made live in certain controlled zones. There are those, when faced with this argument, who say that The Jews weren’t carrying our terrorist attacks. Either are The Muslims. Nor were The Irish. Some Muslims are, and the moment we start pointing at a group as a single monolithic bloc, well, we know where it leads.

Europe is the freest place on Earth, where you can sit on a beach and on one side see Muslim girls wearing hijabs and on the other women sunbathing topless. Where a Muslim, a black and a white police officer be honoured for defending our and their way of life. The threats to that freedom come from extremists on many sides, and we must be vigilant.

But the biggest single threat to that freedom is not a savage attack on a magazine. We can face that down. We are stronger than those bastards. The biggest single threat is the temptation to destroy our freedom by forgetting the lessons of our European past, by listening to those who point to one group of Europeans and say that they are the problem and we must find a “solution” to them.

We have been here before.

 
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The contradictions of Euroscepticism.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 9, 2015 in British Politics, European Union, Irish Politics

Jason CorbynI was recently at a Halloween party (dressed, incidentally, as that figure of terror to all right-thinking middle classes, Jeremy Corbyn) when a very robust debate broke out over the future of the EU. My gracious host and others not uncomfortable on the libertarian right (he was dressed as Dracula, by the way. Insert left-wing metaphor as appropriate) raised a very valid point about the rise of euroscepticism. In short, they claimed that the obvious and very visible rise of euroscepticism across the EU is pretty much a rejection of what we refer to as The European Project.

It’s a fair point, and one made by eurosceptics across Europe. It’s also fair to say that it is not broadly incorrect. If there is one thing that unites eurosceptics, it is that the finger points squarely at Brussels and at those of us elsewhere who continue to advocate European integration.

My host then laid down a challenge at the feet of pro-integrationists. Call a referendum across the union and ask the ordinary peoples of Europe do they want a United States of Europe? He predicted, correctly, I suspect, that such a proposition would be rejected by the great majority of European voters. In short, he said, there is no mandate for further integration.

It’s a powerful argument, and led to heated but good natured exchanges, and I left with plenty to think about.

As with so much to do with Europe, it’s the details that do you in. Is euroscepticism on the rise across Europe. Undoubtedly. But is it the same euroscepticism across the continent? Do eurosceptics want the same thing? Does the word even mean the same thing?

That’s where the wheels come off, because unlike centre-right, centrist or centre-left pro-Europeans, who can compromise, the problem with eurosceptics is that they are often diametrically opposed to what defines euroscepticism.

Poland, for example, has recently elected a Law and Justice party nominally eurosceptic government. Cue cheers in Tory gentlemen’s clubs across London and much despatching of Mr.Carsons to break out the good brandy. “Three cheers for the Poles who will now support us in, eh, banning Poles working in the UK, or, eh, getting welfare even if they live and pay taxes in Britain, or, um, getting rid of the Common Agricultural Policy…”

See the problem? Think all Irish eurosceptics agree with Tory free-marketeers that the CAP is too generous and needs to be cut back, if not abolished? Think French eurosceptics agree with the same Tories that the EU gives too many rights to workers? Think those Tories agree with French eurosceptics on CAP or that the single market is too open to cross-border competition? Think Greek or Italian eurosceptics think that dealing with the Mediterranean refugee crisis is purely an internal national sovereignty matter and not any other countries’ problems?

The truth is, there is as much unity on the hard detail between eurosceptics as there is amongst the Irish Alphabet Left. This is People’s Front of Judea stuff.

Even the wording of the issue gets you into trouble. Take the aforementioned United States of Europe referendum. What would be the wording? “Do you want a United States of Europe?” Grand. So if we don’t call it the USofE we can carry on? Or “Do you want any more European integration?” Fine. So does further co-operation on, say, child trafficking count as further integration? Is it now illegal? How about “Should federalism be banned in Europe?” Again, a lovely day out. How do you define federalism? The centralising of all power to a non-directly elected body with weak to non-existent lower authorities? Great. You’ve just abolished Ireland. This thing could run and run.

Oh, it’s true that the EU is now the irritating political itch of the day, the piñata to be waved about and clobbered by every politician desperately trying to distract attention from their over-promising and under-delivery.

May be it might even work. Maybe a common consensus might be arrived at that a majority of Europeans can’t agree on why they hate the EU but just do, and if that’s the case, it’s farewell EU.

But it still remains a false solution, because the problems will still be there, and the interdependence that a globalised society and economy creates will still be there the day after the “For Rent” sign is put up in the window of the Berlaymont. Products manufactured in Poland will still have to meet Portuguese and Finnish standards. Irish paedophiles who assault a Greek child and then flee to Slovakia will still have to be tracked, arrested and tried. China will still have to be negotiated with. Syrians will still wash up in Italy and try to get to Calais or Stockholm.

And then the victorious eurosceptics, sitting in their national ministries, will order their officials to solve X. And their officials will tell them that they’ll need the cooperation of countries Z and Y to do that. But countries Z and Y are looking for something else, and so negotiations on some form of European cooperation will probably be needed…

Still, you can’t beat watching JR Ewing, Jeremy Corbyn, Dracula and a Roman Centurion debate the future of Europe. That’s a sitcom right there, surely?

 
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Will Brexit lead to the “Finlandisation” of the UK?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 2, 2015 in European Union

Winter_war (1)The phrase “Finlandisation” is both controversial and offensive to many Finns. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it is generally taken to be a reference to an arrangement Finland had under its long-serving President Urho Kekkonen in the 1970s where the Finns made pragmatic concessions to the Soviet Union in return for keeping their independence.

Some have sneered at it as a form of “puppet statery” which is both inaccurate and wrong. It was, in short, the response of a small nation to having a) a belligerent superpower on its border, and b) not having help coming from anyone equally powerful. This from a country which proved during the Winter War of 1939 that it didn’t lack courage when it came to defending itself from a Russian invasion.

So, what’s the connection with Brexit? The reality of Finlandisation was that Finland, although nominally independent, had many of its external and some internal policies not set directly by Moscow but certainly were set in Helsinki with an eye to Moscow. The Finnish media quietly avoided making too much noise about the Soviets, and Kekkonen himself pretty much ran on an “Only I can deal with Moscow” ticket.

Britain outside a 450m citizen European Union would find itself in a situation with parallels. Not from a military point of view, obviously, but certainly from the fact that the sheer economic heft and gravity of the EU will force a non-EU Britain to be influenced by it. British managers will still keep an eye on EU product regulations, as will British bureaucrats. Britain will be a nominally independent non-EU country that finds, for sheer pragmatic reasons, that it is easier to comply with regulations and rules set in Brussels, as it does now, only without any say in their initial drafting.

Still, at least there won’t be any blue flags around the place. That’s something, I suppose.

 
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Out: 10 years after Britain has left the European Union.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 28, 2015 in British Politics, European Union

For a short period, they were almost vilified as traitors. In that period after Britain voted to leave the EU, those politicians who had campaigned to remain found inside themselves being demonised as not quite British. Many quietly retired at the next election, indeed some forced to after being told firmly that their constituency parties would not be renominating them as they sided with “a foreign power”. Everybody was a eurosceptic now.

The populist eurosceptic press weren’t sure what to do with themselves. Having spent 30 years blaming a city in Belgium for all Britain’s woes, the sudden departure caused quite a psychological blow. The departure negotiations had been a source of great material, of course, but even they turned out to be less dramatic than expected. Despite some very nasty speeches in the French National Assembly, cooler heads prevailed, and an amicable trading relationship was found between Britain and the EU.

To great irony, it was the Irish, led by Sinn Fein’s minister for foreign affairs MaryLou McDonald, who put up the stoutest defence of a good deal for Britain, the Irish well aware of the importance of British trade. Indeed, the quiet but nevertheless public decision to beef up Britain’s Dublin embassy with a special EU affairs unit, to allow for the Irish to keep the British in the loop on issues of common interest, was noted by many. Opposition wags in the Dail were quick to remark that it wasn’t the first time Sinn Fein kept British intelligence in the picture.

The great liberation caused by British exit never happened. There were some savings from now defunct contributions to the EU budget, but when marked against EU regional spending in Britain, and the British contribution for access to the single market, as per Norway, the savings were modest, and certainly not the windfall eurosceptics had hinted at.

Likewise with the much ballyhooed end to Brussels redtape. When British civil servants attempted to strip out all the “unnecessary” EU regulation, they kept stumbling across laws on labelling poisons in the workplace or maternity rights that were too politically awkward to start abolishing. In short, many of the EU regulations were in fact the regulations the population of a modern industrialised state demanded of their politicians anyway. The horse, as they say, had bolted on that issue.

When British companies started finding themselves being targetted, particularly by the Irish enterprise development agencies, Whitehall got quite upset. The fact that there was now an Irish cabinet minister who made it her business to sit down with British business leaders to discuss upcoming Commission legislation within the single market, provided those companies invested in Ireland, raised hackles. It was the same with the City of London. In a joint press conference between Prime Minister Cooper and President Lagarde of France, the Frenchwoman delicately but firmly pointed out that the EU proposal to tax European pension and investment funds that went to London was, “with all due respect, none of Britain’s business. How we regulate EU capital flows is the business of EUmembers. If those decisions happen to impact non-members…”

A Gallic shrug sealed the comment.

Likewise with the inflow of immigrants which had done so much to aggravate the Tory right and its UKIP offshoot. With Britain out, the logistics of ending the freedom to work and travel proved to be much more challenging. The City of London was adamant about not loosing the cream of continental talent it attracted. Likewise, France, Spain and Ireland all had significant British populations that needed to be accomodated, and the Poles and rest of central Europe were willing to play hardball over the issue, refusing to tolerate the mass expulsion of large numbers of their citizens working in the UK. The possibility of large numbers of ex-pats living for years in France and Spain (Britain and Ireland worked out a side deal) suddenly being required to pay hefty residency and visa fees because they were no longer EU citizens became a front page issue in The Daily Mail, with that paper demanding some form of “special European passport for ex-pats”.

The Foreign Secretary, Mr Milliband, ordered by parliament to seek Britain’s fortune away from “decaying” Europe and instead in the glistening cities of Asia, found certain realities. Britain did still matter in the world, even outside the EU, but certainly not as an equal partner. Both India and China were of course eager to do business, but insisted upon the right of their citizens to travel to Britain to study, work and sell. The Chinese in particular were very firm, and so just as Britain moved to deny the Polish plumber entry, young Chinese and Indian men and women began to arrive in their hundreds of thousands to conduct business, study, inter-marry, pay taxes, require housing and healthcare and begin familes. Just as the Poles had. Within a few years, the Chinese government had begun to decry the unfairness of her citizens contributing to the UK’s coffers but not being able to vote on how they were spent. Mr Milliband vowed to give the issue serious consideration.

The fear campaign that suggested that Britain was economically doomed outside the EU proved to be nonsense. But British ministers found themselves outside the room constantly at major economic events. The EU/US Free Trade Area, and the EU/China trade pact both were conducted without British representation, but with British companies already bound to meet EU regulations with the single market now having to comply with more joint EU/US regulations for access to the Atlantic Free Trade Area. Indeed, when footage leaked from the EU/US talks of the Irish Taoiseach, Ms Power, briefing (and noting concerns from) a half dozen major British industrial and business leaders, all of whose firms had recently announced major job investments in Ireland, the British media was quick to cry foul. The Irish Department of Enterprise, on the other hand, reported a sharp spike in enquiries from major UK and US businesses to discuss the perceived Access-For-Jobs scheme.

Ten years out, it wasn’t the end of the world. Britain was still trading with the rest of Europe and the world. But the much suggested radical departure into a new British “Golden Age” just didn’t happen. Britain still had to pay attention to what commissioners and the European Parliament did, because that was the world Britain lived in. Globalisation was irreversible, and whether it was Brussels or Beijing, it wasn’t a matter of not letting other countries affect you. It was a question of shaping that effect, and that was going to happen whether inside the EU or not. Britain chose to go it alone.

Copyright © 2016 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.