Surviving charge of 'the flight brigade'
Published 28/06/2016 | 02:30
Today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny sits down with other European leaders for what will be the most important meeting in a lengthy career. When President Obama served notice on the UK a couple of months ago, he spoke as bluntly as diplomacy allows to warn the British that they would go to the back of the queue in Europe, should they step over the precipice. The fact that they have done so opens up serious challenges, as well as unique possibilities, for Ireland.
Our larger neighbour's past difficulties have been seen as opportunities for this country, and with the right focus and leadership, could be so again. Of course, the risks are considerable. But the British decision to walk away from a market of more 500 million consumers creates unprecedented potential here for foreign direct investment. Yes, there are downsides. Mr Kenny must spell out that Ireland has more to lose than any other country in the EU from a disorderly Brexit. We have seen the billions wiped off the stock exchange as sterling plunges. But far graver still would be any threat to the common travel area between these islands; or any move towards the reintroduction of a patrolled Border. Either would be calamitous, as would be any new raid on our low corporation tax rate.
Mr Kenny has an onerous duty to insist that Ireland cannot countenance changes to the status quo. The special relationship between the UK and Ireland is unique.
Clearly, the Brexiteers gave scant attention to the consequences before their leap into the great unknown. But we cannot be as feckless with our fates as those who led the "charge of the flight brigade" were with theirs.
"To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day." So said Winston Churchill, a man who did much to salvage Europe from the ashes of war. Post-Brexit, Thursday, June 23, will go down as a "single day" when things disintegrated far quicker than they can be put back together.
From an Irish perspective, instead of quaking anxiously, we must seize the moment to build and develop to enable those who will inevitably choose to decamp now that Britain is no longer a member of the EU. Limerick, Cork, Tralee, Waterford, Galway, Sligo and Athlone - all have ample scope for development and would be ideal locations for any foreign multinationals seeking to take advantage of our new status as Europe's leading English-speaking gateway to the EU.
Yesterday, on the eve of this EU emergency session, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her party how the international markets were very concerned that the European Union is no longer governable after Britain's vote to leave the bloc. Thus, Boris Johnson finds himself rightly castigated for not spelling out precisely what kind of place Britain would be the morning after Brexit. He has been even more roundly slated for the absence of any concrete plan to deal with the consequences.
Ireland does not have the luxury of waiting for the dust to settle. One MP claimed yesterday that "Project fear has become project farce". Yesterday also saw the suspension of trading in some stocks and sterling sinking to a 31-year low.
So it is critical that we protect ourselves by becoming as attractive and competitive as possible. Mr Kenny has rightly appealed for a "cross-party approach" in dealing with the days ahead. He was correct in pointing out that "the stakes have always been higher for Ireland than for any other member state" concerning Brexit.
But with high stakes come high rewards, and an imaginative and resolute managing of this crisis could divert hitherto untapped revenue streams. We have little choice but to react and adapt boldly to new realities.