Saturday 22 October 2016

The Brexiteers are deluded and utterly devoid of a plan - but that doesn't mean we have to be

Published 04/10/2016 | 02:30

Think how much happier we could all be if we were half as confident as Brexiteers, whose preening self-regard continues to reach dizzying levels despite the fact that they have yet to define what Brexit means.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May spent the past three months loudly reiterating "Brexit means Brexit" whenever anyone had the temerity to ask about anything resembling a plan to leave the EU.

We thought we were going to be put out of our misery in early September, when Minister for Brexit David Davis addressed the House of Commons for the first time. His speech had been billed as an important statement of intent for the British government. In the event, it was more empty blather.

"Naturally, people will want to know what Brexit means. Simply it means leaving the European Union," he declared, as if this revelation was somehow news.

Last week, in his first newspaper interview since becoming Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson sought to clarify matters.

"Our policy is having our cake and eating it. We are Pro-secco but by no means anti-pasto," he told 'The Sun', before crooning Bob Marley's 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' to a slack-jawed journalist.

Clearly Boris's comedic talents are being wasted and he should renounce politics immediately and start doing stand-up.

While lesser mortals are fretful about the future, worried about their jobs and the broader economic implications of leaving the EU, the Brexiteers are euphoric.

They can hardly believe the British public followed them off the cliff and have been having far too much fun to think of anything as tedious as scanning the horizon for a life raft as they hurtle to the ground.

Finally, this weekend, addressing a triumphant Tory party conference, Ms May sought to put some meat on the bones of Brexit. She promised to swiftly enact a 'Great Repeal Bill' to overturn the 1972 European Communities Act, the legislation that gives direct effect to EU law in the UK.

However, instead of excising EU law from the UK, the Bill will recast EU law as British so that every single directive and regulation remains in force, even after the Brexit dream is finally realised.

Having spent the entire referendum campaign foaming at the mouth about EU laws being foisted on the UK by vapid bureaucrats in Brussels, it turns out the British want to keep them after all.

Asked at the weekend what specific EU law was so terrible that he wanted to get rid of it immediately, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling couldn't name a single one.

Other than the damp squib of the not-so-great Repeal Bill, the only other piece of useful information in Ms May's speech was a date. She plans to press the Brexit button, and engage Article 50 to start formal exit negotiations with the EU, by the end of March next year.

From that date, the British will have just two years to try to agree a plan to extricate themselves from the EU while simultaneously coming up with a separate trade deal with their former partners.

The Brexiteers remain supremely confident that this can easily be done. In fact, most of them seem to think they'll have 50 other trade deals, with other disparate countries, ready to ink as soon as Brexit is finalised.

The fact that it took tiny Greenland, whose population is smaller than that of Tallaght, three years to agree its exit deal with the EU in 1985 doesn't cause them any alarm.

While Brexit may be full of unknowns, they know at least one thing: they are British and they are great and they will be just fine.

The EU, they say, needs them more than they need it. They say this despite the fact that 44pc of British exports go to the EU while just 16pc of EU exports end up in the UK.

This sort of delusional optimism, which cannot be dented with mere facts and logic, was perfectly exemplified by the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson on RTÉ radio yesterday.

Asked how Northern Ireland's farmers would cope with the loss of EU subsidies, he said the UK has a growing population that needs food and Northern Irish farmers would produce that food. Back on planet earth, Northern Ireland's farmers rely on the EU for more than 80pc of their income - a subsidy the UK exchequer will now have to replace.

Therein lies the problem for the Irish Government. How do you negotiate with people who seem to be in the midst of a nationalistic acid trip, immune to appeals to sanity and reason?

For other EU member states, it is relatively easy. The stakes are not as high. They can afford to make things difficult for the British and, to prevent other countries from following their example, they are sure to do so.

Regrettably for us, because of our close trading links, when the British jumped overboard we were handcuffed to them.

The task facing the Government is to find the keys to release us, leaving the British to their fate, before we are both submerged under the water.

Faced with this mammoth undertaking, the response from Government to date has been disconcertingly muted. According to Labour leader Brendan Howlin, the Cabinet's special Brexit committee, which is supposed to oversee our negotiation strategy, has met just once and there are no immediate plans for any further meetings.

The Government has said that its Brexit preparations would "intensify" now that Ms May had indicated a timeline, but why were we waiting for the inevitable to happen before serious planning was initiated? Just because the British are devoid of a plan, doesn't mean we have to be.

The ramifications for us are not just economic, they encompass peace on this island and the progress in relations between North and South that have been painstakingly achieved over decades. Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan has conceded that a hard Border could be erected once more on the island of Ireland. That, and not 'new politics', could be this Government's legacy.

Irish Independent

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