Sunday 15 September 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Expect the unexpected in Brexit final furlong as we pin all our hopes on trusty EU steed.

Sooner rather than later, we will know if the stance adopted by Leo Varadkar bears fruit. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Sooner rather than later, we will know if the stance adopted by Leo Varadkar bears fruit. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Gerard O'Regan

You can't ride two horses at the same time. You can't have your cake and eat it. You are damned if you do - and damned if you don't.

A host of these old truisms must sometimes clog the ears of our frontline Brexit team. All the more so as we approach Becher's Brook for the last time in this marathon talkfest. At this point there's going to be some high-profile fallers. We can only hope our own trusty steed - the Irish Backstop - avoids calamity.

The greatest fear is that things go askew purely as a result of accident. As Grand National fans will know, the random and the unexpected often decides who makes it to the winner's enclosure. A stray horse or two can bring down even the most expertly guided runner and rider.

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Either way, we are heading for the home stretch towards the Brexit finishing line. Much drama still lies ahead.

Sooner rather than later, we will know if the stance adopted by the Varadkar and Coveney axis bears fruit. Some have argued they have been too hardline on the Border issue, provoking Arlene Foster and the DUP into an equally provocative stance. But realistic alternative proposals, from a Republic of Ireland perspective, have failed to materialise. The central issue remains. Either we have a physical divide on this island or we don't.

Regardless of what happens, these Brexit days have been remarkable. The dynamic between Dublin and London will never quite be the same again. Whatever its ills - and accepting some of our erstwhile EU friends cannot always be relied upon - membership of the Brussels club has brought Ireland negotiating clout unparalleled in its history.

Being part of the most powerful trading block on the planet has buttressed us with inordinate psychological back-up. For its part the British government is getting a taste of things to come. Doing a solo run as regards the UK's future in Europe is all very well, but it leaves Downing Street completely dependent on its own resources when confronting the not inconsiderable power of the EU. We have the comfort of the collective; there's some safety in numbers.

Of course we cannot, and must not, ignore the concerns of our nearest neighbour. But neither should they be too flippant about Ireland's ongoing role in a new European order. The bottom line is that Ireland and the UK have a vested interest in building on their 'special relationship'.

We have been on opposite sides in the Brexit high-wire act, and that has stoked its own tensions. But these will pass. However, nobody can quite predict what the next few years will bring. The plunge into the unknown has many risks for this country. But equally, the economic challenges facing Britain cannot be underestimated as it ploughs its own furrow in a troubled wider world.

We can only wonder how history would have played out if the British and ourselves had never joined the EU back in 1973. Somewhere along the way, would we have been tempted to break ranks with London, go it alone, and throw in our lot with Brussels? That would have brought to the surface hard choices we have had to make in recent months.

When a deal is finally done, we will have to play the cards we are dealt. Going forward, trade with a non-member country like Britain cannot be exactly as it was before. A crunch question will tempt us from time to time. Which is our number one partner - London or Brussels?

We had to plump for one side over the other. After all you can't ride two horses at the same time. Or have your cake and eat it. And we had to fight for the avoidance of that hard Border. But there are indeed situations where you are damned if you do - and damned if you don't.

Irish Independent

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