The ill-fated Soviet revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, memorably said – some years before he departed this world with an ice-axe in his head – “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
You are already forgiven if you have long ago lost interest in that dreary carry-on called Brexit. Yet we must paraphrase Comrade Trotsky here and say: “But Brexit is interested in you.”
Just look at what we found out in the past week: The B-word can potentially impact supplies of fish for your local greasy spoon due to that nasty EU-UK stand-off over fishery waters access.
It has potential fallout for sausages, puddings and ready meals in a potential tit-for-tat spat over EU food import rules for such products. Not good news if you fancied a batter burger or sausage to replace scarce or overpriced fish with your chips.
But now, horror of horrors, Brexit could even be threatening those very chips themselves.
Stay with us – we will explain all anon.
The reality is that Brexit will affect Ireland in very many ways across all our day-to-day lives. Much of it depends on how the current EU-UK talks on finalising the trade side of this messy divorce pan out.
No-deal spells a proper mess with these and many other predictions coming to pass. But in the time remaining it is now odds-on that any deal will be on the light side – leaving many issues uncovered and facing an uncertain fate.
The timeframe is now very short. The UK has already politically left the EU and on December 31 it will exit the commercial side of things also. Without success in current talks seeking a trade deal, things look grim. But let’s explain a little more about the spud – that raw material for our chips. Many people may be surprised to hear that Brexit might disrupt one of life’s great staples and guilty pleasures.
Though the Irish are famous for growing, and eating, potatoes a lot of our spuds are actually imported – especially those used by chippers. In fact, we import around 80,000 tonnes of potatoes a year and many chip shops in Ireland import their potatoes from the UK because soil types make them easier to fry and get crispy.
So, a post-Brexit ban on the importation of potatoes from the UK could have a major effect on chip supplies. There might even be a shortage in chippers, depending on the outcome of these talks involving EU’s Michel Barnier and the UK’s David Frost.
Derek Duggan who works in Leo Burdock’s famed chipper in Christchurch, Dublin, said they may have to use home-grown potatoes for their chips, but they won’t taste the same. “People are amazed when they hear we import so much potatoes from abroad,” he told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.
“We can get homegrown potatoes but they will be different, they won’t be as crispy sadly, the sugar balance won’t be the same.
“It will be a different flavour so we might have to alter the salt and vinegar and what we do with the sauces.
“There could be a shortage, we might have to go with smaller portions, and we might have to go with a different approach.”
Mr Duggan said that the company has been left in the dark over what exactly is going to happen on the importation of UK potatoes.
“At this moment nothing has been clarified, nothing has been signed sealed or delivered – we are anxious around that,” he said.
Thomas McKeon, head of the Irish Farmer’s Association potato committee, said people are always surprised to hear that many of our potatoes are imported from countries as far away as Israel and Egypt. The farmer sorts and bags rooster potatoes near Kells in Co Meath for local shops. “When I started here on the farm in the late 80s the country grew twice as much potatoes as we do now,” he said.
It’s hard not to get carried away with the history of the potato in Ireland. Just be grateful I did not start with Walter Raleigh down in Youghal in Elizabethan times. The tricky part is getting back to Brexit which from today negotiators have just one clear calendar month left to resolve things.
The row about fisheries is, we are told, central to unblocking the stalled progress. Here let’s note that there is little room for flippancy.
Ireland is one of eight so-called “coastal states” doing battle here. Ireland’s €1.2bn per year fishery sector is responsible for 12,000 jobs, many of them in coastal communities where other work and income are scarce.
One-third of the value of Ireland’s annual catch is in waters which London wants designated “UK waters” come January. There is a lot at stake here.
The other issues are well known: EU demands that the UK uphold standards on state aid, environment and labour law, all of which are a big cost on business. The UK is too big and too near to the EU to take a chance on these things.
Continued free trade access to the EU – precious to Ireland for continued prosperity and other details all the way to the chipper – cannot be lightly given without guarantees. Another EU demand, for a workable disputes resolution mechanism, is also vital when you consider how London is threatening to unilaterally change Northern Ireland’s special trade status. So, will they actually do a deal? we hear you wearily ask. Short answer is that they should – and it would be criminal to allow a no-deal end here.
But given what we have all seen so far, we can take nothing for granted.