Andrew Bridgen writes for The Foxhole
During the Brexit negotiations, the Republic of Ireland for a while was placed at the heart of the argument by the EU. They claimed they had to ensure nothing was agreed that could disadvantage a member (the Republic of Ireland), put the Holy Grail of the EU single market at risk or disrupt the Good Friday Agreement. This delivered the chance for Ireland to bask in the sunshine on the world stage and to seemingly and uniquely in history have the upper hand over the UK as it had the EU to back it up as negotiations over the issue of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland took place.
Of course though, this is the EU we are talking about, rather than some benevolent protector of Ireland’s interests as some might fool themselves into thinking. We all know the reality that Ireland was a bargaining chip used by the EU, a stick with which to beat the UK.
Eventually of course the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The perception was that the EU had delivered for the Republic of Ireland and as such support levels for the EU in the Country remain high – 83% saying they would vote to remain in the 2019 Eurobarometer survey.
This therefore suggests that at the start of this year, it would be long odds that Ireland would be the next Country to leave the EU. However, I believe a lot of changes lie ahead with the EU’s relationship with Ireland and not many of them are good. We have already seen that the EU’s concern for the Irish Protocol was so strong that they broke it within a month of the end of the transition period! They did so without even consulting Dublin, as they desperately scrabbled around to distract from their complete failure to manage a vaccine procurement programme. This is resulting in the UK vaccinating more people a day currently than the Republic of Ireland has managed in total.
Then there is the matter of fishing. Ireland already has one of the worst deals in the EU when it comes to the Common Fisheries Policy given the scale of its waters and its quota, a further 15 per cent of which has been lost due to Brexit. So when supertrawlers such as the Margiris (which is capable of processing 250 tonnes of fish per day) turn up 8 miles off Ireland’s territorial sea limit, you can see why Irish fishermen are starting to question the advantages of EU membership.
The UK and USA are looking to negotiate a trade deal following Brexit, and although there has been a change in President, the UK and USA have a special relationship. Boris Johnson was the first European leader Joe Biden called and I firmly believe we will negotiate a trade deal as we have done with its neighbour Canada and the third largest economy in the world in Japan. Ireland may well look enviously at a trade deal with the USA as they represent over 30% of Irish exports. The UK-US trade deal might even happen automatically as both have announced they wish to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Irish Republic through its EU membership would not be able to join this club along with its biggest trading partners.
Then there is the issue of greater integration within the European Union and its tax harmonisation policies. The Republic of Ireland has done very well since the financial crisis of 2008, inward investment is helped by a very low rate of corporation tax at 12.5%. If, as suggested the EU wants tax harmonisation at about 35 per cent, such a move will cause the Irish economy a huge problem. I would suggest that a lot of company headquarters like Google and Amazon will relocate to the UK, which will in future be a lower tax economy for business tax purposes, unless of course you believe these corporate global players are located in Ireland for the weather.
The final significant issue I’d raise aside from the fact that Ireland is now one of only two English speaking nations in the EU, is defence. We know that the EU has ambitions for a defence force/army. Indeed, British soldiers were seen a couple of years ago arriving into Bosnia with EU flags on their uniform. This is an issue for Ireland as they are a neutral country and rely on the UK for their air defence. They are going to have to have a referendum to change their constitution to allow particpation in the European army and the Irish have form when it comes to voting ‘No’ in referenda on further EU integration. Ireland voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 before they voted “the right way” in the mandatory rerun in 2009.
The EU vaccination debacle will also be raising a few eyebrows on the Emerald Isle as those in the Republic observe the successful roll-out of vaccine north of the border. Meanwhile, their own police, the Garda, are stopping motorists on the Irish border and fining them €100 if their reason for travelling is deemed insufficient. It is clear that the EU does not like the almost 100 year Common Travel Area agreement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and it will be under increased threat in the future.
The Irish have not fallen out of love with the EU yet, however public opinion can soon change and is shaped by events. A relationship in which you receive more than you pay in can soon turn sour when you become a net contributor, which after Brexit has now become the case to the tune of €2bn a year and rising.