Thursday 29 September 2016

It's still the economy, stupid: 'Bremain' will prevail over 'Brexit'

Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30

British Prime Minister David Cameron during a Q&A with members of the audience following an interview by Faisal Islam on Sky News on Thursday (Picture: PA)
British Prime Minister David Cameron during a Q&A with members of the audience following an interview by Faisal Islam on Sky News on Thursday (Picture: PA)

In just a few weeks our nearest neighbours will decide their destiny - committing to either the EU or the UK.

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It's a genuinely historic choice between Bremaining or Brexiting - God help us, has no one any respect for language?- and what it boils down to is a choice of either national independence or international interdependence.

I tend to trust the bookmakers before pollsters when it comes to predictions. Yes, I know the 'Guardian' poll narrowly favoured a Brexit and the gap may be narrowing.

But turf accountants have skin in the game and must pay out if they get the odds wrong.

Since Easter, there's been a decisive shift in the betting markets. Then, prices were 'stay' 1/2, 'leave' 2/1. Now if you walked down Irish high streets, odds on 'stay' have sharply contracted: Paddy Power and Boylesports at 1/6, with Ladbrokes only marginally more generous at 1/5. Results in Scotland and Northern Ireland are predicted to be even more decisive than 60:40 in favour of 'remain'.

If the bookies are correct, this constitutional escapade will amount to one of the great false alarms for the Irish establishment.

Not since the 'millennium bug' has there been such frenzied anxiety. Back then, it was all techno-phobia about the addition of an extra zero to computer programs and what might happen.

By New Year's Eve 1999, computer geeks had conspired to create a costly Y2K consultative industry, through fears that all software programs were only adapted for the last two digits of each year. But a mountain had been made out of a molehill, as we awoke on January 1, 2000, and all was well.

The same anxiety still stalks our corridors of power in Dublin at prospects of the two islands moving in polar-opposite directions.

Feverish attempts are afoot to sway the 400,000 ex-pat Irish voters in Britain to vote 'remain' and persuade up to 288,000 British residents living here to register their vote by next Monday, so as to represent our vital interests.

Nobody can be certain of the consequences of a Brexit for our 500km land border with the North, with its 30,000 daily crossings.

The Border was always porous, even at the height of the Troubles.

The threat of back-door immigration threats into the UK might well mean further frontier boundary posts are erected.

The threat of duties and tariffs is also being bandied about. But much of this is still in the realms of the unknown.

Norway's access to the single market is dependent upon conforming to EU regulations, but such a scenario for the UK isn't acceptable to the 'leave' campaigners.

Our national interest unambiguously favours the status quo. Amongst the most obvious benefits of both countries being in the EU are the security of 400,000 jobs. There is also weekly trade of €1.2bn.

On top of all this, there are the lucrative opportunities afforded by a common labour market for our emigrants and the convenience of a common travel area within the British Isles.

The inevitable further slide of Sterling would spell trouble for Irish competitiveness. But the greatest downside of a Brexit would be its impact on the future shape of the EU without our nearest neighbour.

Losing a member state that's likely to have the largest population in the zone by 2050 would result in an overall reduction in the EU's GDP.

And the absence of Britain would undoubtedly accelerate continental Europe's move towards greater integration.

The post-Brexit choice for the EU is stark - it amounts to a choice between disintegration or integration.

The 27 states are likely to press ahead with Europhile dreams of a USE (United States of Europe).

The sovereignty of peripheral states will diminish.

The growing calls for majority-vote decision-making on taxation to become agreed policy, would mean an abrupt end to our foreign direct investment strategy.

The tax incentives for multinational corporations would disappear.

Annual EU budgets could also supersede national fiscal plans; domestic budgets might also require further centralised clearance.

The present proposals for uniform PPS numbers for every EU taxpayer would readily facilitate the implementation of pan-European personal tax treatment.

Our Franco-German overlords would impose technocratic rules without the bulwark of British bulldog resistance.

The UK's most pivotal role inside EU tent is to be the prime Euro-sceptic player.

Without them, federalists would continue their 'Animal Farm' approach - all states are equal, but some are more equal than others.

A respectful co-existence is now pretty much a given.

The renegotiation terms secured by British Prime Minister David Cameron (inset), while modest, are welcome in safeguarding greater powers for national parliaments.

The key argument for British independence is the issue of immigration control. The UK saw a net population growth of 330,000 in 2015.

Debating points about democracy and sovereignty are esoteric compared to the fears generated in northern England housing estates of being swamped by foreigners claiming costly welfare benefits. Obligations to accommodate EU citizens, especially after the refugee influx, are not listened to amid the clamour over restrictions on child benefit payments.

However, the decisive winning arguments have all been economic. The cacophony of global authorities signalling declines in the UK's growth, investment, jobs, output and incomes has been virtually uniform. The OECD, World Bank, IMF, G-7 and 88pc of independent economists concluded Britain risks a downturn in trade outside the EU.

The game changer was not the spat between Boris Johnson and Barack Obama. It was the chilling clarity of the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who bluntly predicted a Brexit-induced recession and all that goes with it.

Irish Independent

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