Ireland needs to start planning for a British EU withdrawal.

The day is coming.

The day is coming.

Like many people, I tend to assume that people better educated than me, and paid vastly larger salaries than me in the great departments of state are thinking and planning about the big issues of the day. Sadly, as our property bubble and banking regulation proved, that is not necessarily the case, but I hope things have changed, because something enormous is heading down the track at us.

Now, it’s true, the very continuation of the  euro and the EU is up for discussion, but if they go under we are living in a different world, and we’ll just have to deal with it. One issue, on the other hand, that we do know is almost certain to happen in the next ten years is Britain leaving the EU, and we need to start planning for that. What are the questions facing us?

The obvious one is whether we can remain in the EU without the UK, our single most important trading partner? Ironically, it will be in our national interest to ensure that Britain gets the best deal possible in terms of access to the single market, because the last thing we need is to be maintaining a tariff  wall with the UK, and them with us.

The second irony is that we will almost certainly become Britain’s eyes and ears in the EU, representing British concerns at the Commission and Council. I would not be surprised if we even end up having some sort of Dublin based joint-secretariat to keep the Brits in the loop, in the same way the British have a relationship with the CIA. This would be in our own interest in terms of maintaining Britain in the single market and also in terms of giving us leverage with the UK on other issues.

The third issue is the joint travel area. With Britain out, we will come under pressure to join Schengen, which is worth considering but not at the cost of imposing passport controls between Britain and Ireland, and certainly not controls at the border. This is an issue which will require toughness on our part with our fellow member states.

Finally, we cannot overestimate the potential ideological shift in the EU away from pro-business policies, low taxes and free trade with the departure of the UK. Whilst we should not get a fetish about our corporate tax rate (we could consider tax harmonisation in return for permanent federal funds to subsidise business in Ireland) we should be more proactive in building a active coalition within the union of pro-business low tax countries, such as ourselves, Poles, Estonians, etc.

If we cannot deliver on the above, we have problems. We need to start wargaming this stuff now.

Note: Ralf Grahn, a regular and thoughtful comment maker on this blog, also raised the point about the effect of English as a working language of the EU. It’s a very valid and interesting point to make? Would there be an advantage to Ireland, or would France attempt a linguistic takeover?

7 thoughts on “Ireland needs to start planning for a British EU withdrawal.

  1. Just came across this. Having been around EU affairs since the mid-1970s (including time in Brussels) I can see no threat to English at this stage. Its rise has been unstoppable and was copper-fastened by the EU10 Accession of 2004, as it is now the default second language most other Member States. French, on the other hand, is in terminal decline. When I went to Brussels first (in 1978) it was impossible to do business if you didn’t know French. English has that role now. Not saying I think this is good, in fact it has probably worsened the monoglot arrogance of many native anglophones

  2. Finn, I did not mean to imply that English would disappear as a working language, but that the system of official and working languages of the EU institutions is based on the official languages of the member states.

    After UK withdrawal, English would be formally be based on two small member states, Ireland and Malta, where English is one of two official languages.

    In this sense, English would not rank much above Latin.

  3. Spain will certainly go for English rather than French. Hardly anyone here learns French any more. Those who do speak it well are mainly those brought up in exile and they’re getting on a bit now.

  4. But what if Scotland becomes independent and is obliged to join Schengen? Where does that leave Ireland?

  5. Interesting view, but re the language thing I really, really do not see that happening.

    The possibility of French as a working language may work from a theoretical point of view, but entirely ignores the reality that a solid majority of the populations of Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are fluent or highly comfortable in English anyway, a fact predating and entirely unrelated to any British involvement in the EU. Sure, French is popular but spoken in an entire different order of magnitude. Most of the central and eastern European countries are also educating a generation of English speakers at the moment – they have been since the early 1990’s. Realistically, I’d say that French seems a more logical working language only to France, half of Belgium, possibly Italy and Portugal, and probably not even Spain.

    It’s ironic but I think many Anglophones tend to actually give French more credit as an international language than most other Europeans, possibly because for many Brits and Irish people it’s the first foreign language they attempt.
    (One look at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest though was a funny reminder – the Azerbaijani presenters actually beamed as they produced their three memorised set (but garbled) French phrases, then congratulating each other on having performed such a feat.)

  6. On a side note, This might be of interest to you. It’s an Android App that might contribute to bringing down dictatorships, such as the Castro Brothers family hideout and prison camp. The Kims can also go toss each others’ salads somewhere else as well.

    The App lets people on smartphones communicate within crowds using the bluetooth capability of the phone, even if state authorities have shut down the mobile phone network. A device that receives the message repeats it, thus letting it bounce or ripple like a pebble thrown into a pond.

    Fight da power, Sic semper tyrannis, and all that. Tip ho.

  7. Jason,
    You could have reflected on the position of English as one of the official and working languages of the EU institutions.

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