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John Downing: 'What's best for us? Some UK outcomes are less appalling than others'

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A pro-Brexit activist, wearing a mask depicting Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and dressed in a chicken suit, demonstrates outside of the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

A pro-Brexit activist, wearing a mask depicting Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and dressed in a chicken suit, demonstrates outside of the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

A pro-Brexit activist, wearing a mask depicting Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and dressed in a chicken suit, demonstrates outside of the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

A coroner famously summed up an inquest finding into the deaths of two farmers from alcoholic poisoning thus: "There is no such thing as 'good' poteen - there is only 'bad' and 'worse'."

The words uttered in Killarney in 1984 come to mind as we assess how the various endings to this dark December UK election look for Ireland's Brexit interests. Any suggestion of a "good" outcome for Ireland is relative.

We can rank the key potential outcomes as follows:

1. Johnson's Conservatives come back strongly with an overall majority. Ireland ranking: 2/5.

Johnson begins with a big lead and proved himself in two big London mayoral campaigns. But all pundits agree that predictions of an overall majority for him are tentative.

If he does have the numbers, Ireland has the benefit of stability with the current EU-UK deal set to be ratified, giving us a transition period and moving things on to the next phase.

But Johnson does favour a harder Brexit, trying to undermine EU labour and environment standards. More tough talks and brinkmanship would lie ahead, with Ireland still caught in the middle as the EU and UK try to forge a long-term relationship.

2. Johnson is left dependent on the Brexit Party and/or the Democratic Unionist Party. Ireland rating: 0/5.

A very depressing prospect indeed. If the DUP was back calling the shots, the arrangements staving off Border controls in Ireland would once again be up for grabs with its insistence on no special treatment for the North.

The absolutist stance of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party offers an even more dreary vision of the road ahead. It is determined to leave the EU and ostensibly cares very little for details of the separation terms, risking economic calamity in these islands.

3. Corbyn's Labour defies the odds and takes power: Ireland rating: 3/5.

Pundits rate this a real long-shot but there's a long campaign ahead and he has form. He is at heart anti-EU - but he has had the wit to argue for a "soft Brexit", staying in the customs union and close to the single market to protect jobs and workers' rights.

Corbyn is in principle committed to a second Brexit referendum. Efforts to negotiate a closer relationship with the EU would be well received in Brussels. There would be more delay, confusion and an uncertain, but likely better, Irish outcome.

4. The Lib Dems and/or Scottish National Party win enough to have a say in government: Ireland rating: 4/5.

Like a Corbyn win, this is a long-shot for a variety of reasons beyond the actual election result. The Westminster Parliament has a poor record on power sharing - even when the numbers suggest it would be good sense. But both parties go into the election in good shape and each is opposed to Brexit for its own reasons. We cannot rule out Corbyn - or even Johnson - having to make some kind of terms with them for coalition or external support.

As with a potential Corbyn win, there would be a period of confusion and delay. But a move to re-establish a closer EU-UK relationship would again be well received in Brussels. In the medium term, this one could, eventually, prove to be vastly the least worst outcome.

Irish Independent