Thursday 29 September 2016

A time for calm heads after Brexit shock

Published 25/06/2016 | 02:30

'For Ireland, and for Britain itself, the aftershocks will need to be managed with the coolest of heads. We could be looking at a Dis-United Kingdom.' Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
'For Ireland, and for Britain itself, the aftershocks will need to be managed with the coolest of heads. We could be looking at a Dis-United Kingdom.' Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Brexit result has been a violent ripping-off of the bandage exposing Europe's wounds. The focus now is to make sure this does not lead to further infection, or even contagion.

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Brussels far from covered itself in glory over the past year in its handling of talks with David Cameron, who was left out on a limb. But Donald Tusk is correct - what has happened is historic, but hysteria must have no part in what happens next. There should be pause to reflect, not panic.

This country, and the entire bloc, desperately needs to see a rebuilding of trust and confidence across the zone. A reassertion of a commitment to down-the-line democracy, and a step away from the high-handed autocratic and alienating style which has characterised Europe's relations with member states, has to be an urgent priority.

If Brexit was a response to anything it was a 'No' to being talked at rather than talked to by unelected mandarins whose sense of mission creep has seen an erosion of sovereignty by stealth. It was also a 'No' to a meddlesome, faceless and increasingly dictatorial monolith that issues decrees and retreats without engagement.

For the North, the consequences are enormous. From the outset, the EU must acknowledge the special relationship between Ireland and England. The re-establishment of the Border, or the ending of the Common Travel Area between the countries, must be red-line issues. Our Government must be resolute on this, and shoring up the peace process is paramount.

But fundamental questions on the EU must be addressed by all 27 remaining members, and not unilaterally, if disintegration is to be avoided. Yet many will now ask how did it come to this? The truth is that, just like the onset of bankruptcy, it was slow at first before happening with a jolt. When the economic crash struck there was a catastrophic paucity of leadership and direction. Then, when the migration crisis hit, there was prevarication and eventual passing of the buck to Turkey. The collapse saw billions in private debt loaded on the backs of taxpayers. Monetary union without a banking backstop meant nothing.

If the EU is to be a common market, let it be one that is functional, adaptable and fit for purpose. If it is to be a political union, let it be accountable and serviceable to the needs of its members - and not those of the money men and the markets. Such issues are in imminent danger of unleashing a tsunami of Euroscepticism across the zone.

Currently, the Front National in France, the Five Star Movement in Italy, Gert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, and Alternative for Germany are all riding bandwagons demanding EU opt-outs. Europe is not just at the crossroads, it is at the edge of the abyss unless it re-invents itself and rediscovers its common purpose and sense of unity. It will either evolve or dissolve.

For Ireland, and for Britain itself, the aftershocks will need to be managed with the coolest of heads. We could be looking at a Dis-United Kingdom.

Right now the economic consequences are immediate, unavoidable and regrettable - but they can be managed.

Sterling has a significant edge, which will hit our exports. The instability could also hit Irish bonds and interest rates. But with every upheaval comes an opportunity for building something better. The ugly and divisive campaigns from 'project fear' to 'project racism' were disquieting. As is often the case, the debate was driven by the extremes. Geographically, socially and generationally, Britain is now divided.

Benjamin Disraeli said: "The palace is not safe when the cottage is unhappy." The manifestations of that dissatisfaction could hardly be clearer.

Irish Independent

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