Monday 26 September 2016

Smurfit confident Irish economy can survive in event of Brexit

Top businessman believes Ireland can overcome the economic challenges the UK's departure from the EU would present, writes Ronald Quinlan

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Michael Smurfit doesn’t believe the euro currency will collapse if the UK votes to leave the EU. Photo: Mark Condren
Michael Smurfit doesn’t believe the euro currency will collapse if the UK votes to leave the EU. Photo: Mark Condren

Ireland can survive and overcome the economic impact of Britain's departure from the European Union, should the UK vote in favour of 'Brexit'.

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That's the view of Dr Michael Smurfit with just five weeks to go to the referendum in the UK, the outcome of which will determine the future of our nearest neighbour's relationship with Europe.

"We survived as a country without the common market, and we survived as part of the British Empire for many, many decades and centuries. So Ireland will survive. We would just have to figure out a way around it," Dr Smurfit said in the course of an interview with the Sunday Independent at his home at the K Club, the venue for this week's Irish Open Golf Championship.

The former chairman of Smurfit Kappa readily conceded, however, that a decision by Britain to exit the EU would make things "very difficult" for the Irish economy given this country's dependence on trade with the UK.

Commenting on the potential consequences of Brexit for the UK itself, he said: "It would be a disaster for my fellow countrymen; I say that with my English hat on rather than my Irish hat on, I've got both passports. I was born in Britain, but I grew up in Ireland and I consider myself more Irish than British. I think it would be mad for Britain to consider leaving the European Union."

Dr Smurfit dismissed a report issued earlier this month by the international ratings agency, Moody's, in which it warned that a Brexit could trigger the collapse of the EU.

"Will it bring down the euro if they [the UK] leave? Absolutely not," he said. "Will it bring down the various European institutions that have been built up? Absolutely not. Britain has always been a bit of a wildcatter, if you will, in Europe. Thatcher particularly had enormous rows with the union over her decade in power."

Offering his views on the measures the EU might consider to discourage other member states from following Britain's lead in the event of a Brexit, the businessman added: "Brussels is not going to take very kindly to Britain leaving, so they're going to make it very difficult for anybody else to leave in the future.

"So they're going to hit Britain with all sorts of different costs and levies to ensure nobody else gets the idea to leave. Let's assume Britain did leave. They would have to negotiate a trade agreement with each country."

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