Sunday 25 February 2018

Good Riddance party won't mourn a tough Brexit

A free international trading system is vital for Ireland's continued survival. Brexit and Trump threaten that, writes Colm McCarthy

Ireland's exposure to Brexit involves more than keeping the border open, important though that certainly is.The fate of the British economy and its future trading relations with the EU remain entirely unresolved and managing the land frontier could turn out to be the lesser challenge. (stock photo)
Ireland's exposure to Brexit involves more than keeping the border open, important though that certainly is.The fate of the British economy and its future trading relations with the EU remain entirely unresolved and managing the land frontier could turn out to be the lesser challenge. (stock photo)
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

Ireland's exposure to Brexit involves more than keeping the border open, important though that certainly is. The fate of the British economy and its future trading relations with the EU remain entirely unresolved and managing the land frontier could turn out to be the lesser challenge. The explicit inclusion, at number four, of the land border issue in the UK government's 12 priorities for the negotiations is reassuring.

The post-Brexit border may not be completely 'frictionless', the aspiration of Theresa May on her visit to Dublin last Monday and of Brexit minister David Davis in last Thursday's White Paper. But Irish politicians have clearly succeeded in persuading their UK counterparts that the frictions must be minimised. They have also ensured that EU negotiators support the expressed desire of both governments to conclude the least disruptive deal possible. It is difficult to see what more could have been achieved by Irish ministers and officials at this early stage.

The White Paper reveals very little about UK negotiating strategy and the likely path of the trade relationships which Britain will embrace, or endure, once the divorce from the EU has been accomplished. There is much aspirational waffle about Global Britain and the boundless opportunities awaiting the UK's exporters once the unspecified Euro-shackles have been sundered. The British prime minister visited Washington last Friday week to explore trade opportunities with Donald Trump, the most protectionist US president since the 1930s. She arrived within days of his cancelling the draft Trans-Pacific trade pact and his unilateral declaration of intent to renege on the 23-year-old free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Mrs May proceeded to Turkey to explore trade possibilities with a country which has a customs-free deal with the EU. Turkey is bound by the EU's common external tariff and cannot conclude solo trade deals with anyone, unless it secretly plans to quit the customs union. There have been equally optimistic trade missions to assorted non-European countries to which Britain exports very little. The shock of the referendum result last June has dislocated the British political and administrative system and there is considerable indulgence in wishful thinking.

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