Saturday 20 January 2018

Kenny hits Brexit campaign trail in UK - but he can expect a fierce backlash

The Taoiseach said he would 'draw a line' between encouraging the Irish in Britain to vote, and lecturing the UK electorate. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
The Taoiseach said he would 'draw a line' between encouraging the Irish in Britain to vote, and lecturing the UK electorate. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Donal O'Donovan and Sarah McCabe

Fresh from commemorating the 1916 Rising by Irish rebels committed to independence, Enda Kenny will abruptly change tack by travelling to Britain to campaign in all but name to keep the UK in the European Union.

The Taoiseach will visit the UK a number of times between now and the UK's June 23 vote - and other Cabinet and opposition members will also travel.

The explicit mission is to encourage only the Irish in Britain to back the pro-European side, but in an increasingly rancorous campaign, Irish leaders should expect a backlash.

With the vote too close to call, tensions in the so-called Brexit campaign ratcheted up further heading into the weekend.

That included dire warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bank of England of serious economic fall-out if Britain votes to leave the EU on June 23.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said yesterday there were no economic positives to Britain leaving.

Instead, the impact of a Brexit would range from "pretty bad to very, very bad", she said.

The blunt language came as the IMF said the UK risks falling into a spiral of weaker economic growth, lower house prices and diminished foreign investment if voters opt for an exit from the EU.

A Brexit vote would "precipitate a protracted period of heightened uncertainty, leading to financial market volatility and a hit to output," the IMF said in its annual report on the British economy.

On Thursday, the Bank of England said the economy would slow sharply, and possibly even enter a brief recession, following a 'Leave' vote.

That intervention that angered some pro-Leave campaigners. Conservative Party MP Jacob Rees Mogg called for Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to be sacked, claiming the intervention was like backing a political party during a general election.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said he would "draw a line" between encouraging the Irish in Britain to vote, and lecturing the UK electorate.

"We don't like anyone lecturing us, nor does Britain want anyone lecturing them.

"But I think it is important that our voice is heard as Britain's closest neighbour and friend," he said.

The Government will target the Irish in Britain, a potentially influential constituency, he said.

"We have almost a million Irish people living in Britain; they have the opportunity to vote on June 23 so we think it's important that they be informed," he said yesterday, at an event organised by the Bloomberg news service.

"We would see the UK leaving the European Union as a considerable concern to put it mildly because successive economic studies show clearly that the impact on Ireland, on this country, would be proportionately greater than on any other EU member state," he said.

"Were Britain to leave, Northern Ireland would be very severely impacted as a consequence of that.

"So any involvement that we have in crossing to Britain between here and June 23 in respect of the referendum decision will be to talk to Irish communities to say: 'Look, this is how important I think this is. I'm going to encourage you to go and cast your vote and I'm going to encourage you to go and say stay'.

"But draw a line between that and lecturing the British people and the British electorate about the decision that they have to make themselves."

Speaking at the same event, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said his airline will slash new investment in the UK, including Northern Ireland, in the event of a Leave vote.

"We're creating about 1,000 new jobs this year. About 450 of this will go into the UK - we're opening bases in Belfast, expanding the bases in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester.

"That expansion will come to a halt if there's a Brexit. You may actually begin to cut some capacity out of the UK, it will go elsewhere in Europe."

Ryanair is contributing financially to the Remain campaign, and even plans to send emails to its customer base to advocate for the 'stay' side, he said

"I personally despise much of the regulation that comes out of Europe but we are fundamentally better off with the EU.

"We shouldn't underestimate the contagion effect this will cause. Whether Britain votes to leave or not, there will be referenda elsewhere.. look at France and Marine Le Pen," he said.

As he plans his UK campaign, Enda Kenny may well face a backlash from pro-Brexit voices for the intervention.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson attempted to paint Barack Obama as anti-British by virtue of his Kenyan family background, when the US President intervened in favour of Britain staying in Europe.


Irish Independent

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