Sunday 25 September 2016

Brexit will force us to take a stand

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

Passion: Former London mayor Boris Johnson is campaigning to leave the EU Photo: PA
Passion: Former London mayor Boris Johnson is campaigning to leave the EU Photo: PA

The Irish Government needs to be clear and bloody minded on this - if Britain votes to leave the EU, we'll back their continued access to the single market to the hilt.

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Yesterday, Michael Noonan was right to break ranks with his long-time German colleague, Wolfgang Schauble, at a meeting of Euro area ministers in Luxembourg.

Mr Schauble is the hard man of the Eurogroup. He is the nemesis of the unfortunates of Greece. He's said the UK would be locked out of the common market if it votes to leave the European Union.

There is a logic to that position. The advocates for Britain remaining in the EU, including David Cameron, want to make the decision to leave as uncomfortable as possible for voters. Threatening to block access to the world's biggest market does that.

It's why Michael Noonan's articulation of the Irish position may make uncomfortable reading for the prime minister, especially if it's seen to persuade some in the UK that a vote to leave isn't quite the dramatic break being touted.

No matter, we need to be clear in our own position.

From Wolfgang Schauble's perspective, restricting the benefits of EU membership to paid-up members might make sense. But it doesn't from ours.

Blockading the Channel would cut off Europe's nose to spite its face. The UK is a big, dynamic, market. Anyone would want to have it as a trade partner.

For Ireland, it's even more serious.

Blockading the Irish border, or Irish Sea, would be cutting off our limbs to spite our torso. Michael Noonan broke ranks on Brexit because that's something we cannot even countenance.

Maintaining trade with Britain is vital to Ireland, regardless of the referendum outcome.

Retaining our two-way trade with Britain, and the shared travel area, are overriding national imperatives for us.

Any attempt by Germany or others to make the terms of a Brexit punitive, if the UK votes to go, have to be resisted forcefully and totally.

Our access to the UK market, their access to ours and the retention of a centuries-old common travel area need to be flagged loud and clear as Irish red lines. We need to be upfront with our partners in Europe that we'll veto any deal that threatens those interests.

Yesterday's comments from Michael Noonan are a start. The referendum campaign has a week to go, anything can happen.

But if the vote goes against Europe, we need to be vocal and unembarrassed in the defence of our interests.

Casting the UK out into the cold isn't one of them.

Irish Independent

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