Farm Ireland

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Brexit leaves us fighting a diplomatic war on two fronts

Taoiseach Enda Kenny . Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny . Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

THE posh phrase is that politics is a "visceral business."

Put more simply we can say that gut often rules head when it comes to political choices. We got a very stark reminder of this in the early hours of Friday morning when the majority in England and Wales opted to leave the EU.

By yesterday the banking behemoth, Goldman Sachs, was predicting economic recession in 2017 for the United Kingdom. In the same way as we got an economic lift from British resurgence in the years 2010-2015, we better brace ourselves for some rocky economic weather.

There have been enough musings about the reasons for the Brexit victory. The most important issue here is what will it mean for rural Ireland.

It is all even more unsatisfactory than we feared. There is every sign at time of writing that the famous Article 50 exit mechanism will not be triggered until October - after the British Tories get over themselves and pick a replacement leader for David Cameron.

It will probably take up to 2019 for the negotiations to be worked through and completed. But if they could only be started, with positive follow-up signals of a working deal emerging, then we might have a semblance of stability.

The Irish Government has got some stick for its response and more of that will follow. The biggest job Enda Kenny has in the immediate term is to keep calm at home, while his officials prepare for the biggest international challenge since we negotiated entry into Europe in the early 1970s.

Britain and the British have never been settled in the EU. They still have to get over their post-colonial trauma and the disappointment that victory in World War II was not followed by more glorious episodes.

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The difficulty for us is that we are left being pulled simultaneously in opposing directions. Most mainstream Irish politicians insist our EU membership is a "core national interest."

But that sits alongside the political and commercial realities of our fortunes being interlinked with our much bigger and richer British neighbours who are also the fifth largest economy in the world.

Let's look again at the term "core national interest." Let's also abandon too much pretence about the need to be "good Europeans."

Europe in the day-to-day workings is about process, it's about putting structures in place to deal with our disputes, and trade with one another and the greater world. The idea that at the end of it all we, or any other member nationality, may "love the EU" via that process is about as relevant as expecting the workers and bosses to love one another at the end of the national pay talks.

But let's not be too dismissive either. The pay talks process can and does build working relationships which can help defuse and avoid future flashpoints.

That all brings us back to the European ideal which has always had farming and food as its cornerstone. The reality is that post-war famines drove the nascent EC's farm plans.

It's time our EU leaders got back to some basic principles and reflected on how the old ideals can apply in a complex and changing world. It is time for the political "head" to temper the political "gut."

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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