Recent events ensure a return to blogging after some time. I do have the excuse of being somewhat of a practitioner for a recent period! This site has frequently examined the relationship between Ireland and the UK within the EU usually predicated on the basis that such an alliance was key to our national interest and helpful in keeping the excesses of some in Europe in check. Clearly all has changed utterly and a “terrible beauty is born”. There is no shortage of commentary, jokes, anger and emotion about Brexit throughout Europe and indeed the world but perhaps an element of calm reflection would be the best approach in contrast to some of the rashness of our leaders.
From all dramatic events should come learning but the absence of this coupled with the absence of a plan B is the first take away from the Brexit vote. The referendum as Irish people know is a curious instrument and should be handled with the greatest of care by experienced practitioners. Ireland’s two No votes on Nice and Lisbon are highly instructive in the current situation. The recent campaign saw a heady mix of Project Fear and according to Sadiq Khan Project Hate and the aftermath continues to demonstrate more or less the same. The first and surely most important lesson of the current situation is that the referendum is over. There is no need to re-fight it and claim and counter claim about what was said and promised. The rowing back by the Leave side of many predictions and promises would surely see them win gold in Rio but would it have been so different if it was a narrow remain? Flights of fantasy and rhetoric are normal in politics and moreso in referendums. Again those experienced in this blunt instrument will know there is no real fact checking and truth is the first casualty.
The clucking in Brussels is audible and while the behaviour of the Leave campaign was quite breath-taking maybe some in Brussels need to be looking closer to home. Those who subscribe to the federalist dream are the harshest in their response to the UK with some even seeing this as the ideal opportunity to accelerate their project. This would be a mistake but so typical of the approach of recent years. Unfortunately there are still too many at a senior level in Europe who simply cannot think or act in a different way. The federalist view that Europe simply has to keep integrating regardless of public opinion is now nearly as toxic as the Euroscepticism and populism it is feeding. Let’s face it while their leaders make many stomachs churn it is important to listen to what is driving and motivating Eurosceptism. In Ireland we may have finally (never say never) tamed the EU referendum but in many respects we do so by accepting and conceding some of our opponents arguments. Keeping the argument simple but meaningful is big challenge. Many across the EU sighed with relief when a Commissioner for every country was guaranteed for Ireland’s second vote on Lisbon.
The harsh punitive approach to the UK is tempting and many such as Martin Schultz have caved in to it. Here you simply keep fighting on in the jungle long after the ceasefire. Not only is it foolish to do so but it is counterproductive. Again say it slowly…the referendum is over. There has to be a fresh dispensation to deal with the aftermath. Everybody in Ireland remembers what it was like to have somebody like Sarkozy lecture us on how we voted. It probably made him and a few Europhiles feel good but it further annoyed the people who voted and made them less likely to compromise. The “punish the Brits” cabal is motivated by a fear that other referendums might follow. This seems far-fetched, the Dutch vote on the Ukraine was far from leaving the EU and Le Pens politics, while more popular, are a long way from voting France out of the EU. Smart countries will wait and see how the UK/EU situation pans out. More to the point what kind of EU is being defended if it is one that cannot withstand some public scrutiny and if those who advocate for it cannot explain its benefits to the public? Even as the most Eurosceptic country the vote in the UK was narrow and it was effectively hard done by working class areas which swung it.
Project Punish is bad for the EU and will clearly be bad for Ireland as the barriers and blockages being sought to keep fighting the referendum after it is over will place enormous obstacles between Ireland and a harmonious relationship with the UK and EU. Donald Tusk as president of the EU Council has criticised the unrealistic federal vision of Europe at this point in time to the EPP. We simply don’t know what the future holds and rushing to positions and engaging in Project Punish is the least desirable approach. Even formally, as was the case with Irish No votes, the onus is on the member state to take the initiative. There is a debate going on in the UK about precisely how to handle the situation. They should be given time to have this, some are even talking of a second referendum, a Scottish veto, a general election or a refusal by the Commons to back the Article 50 initiation, who knows what will happen but shrill punishment language form Brussels will not help. Interestingly it was also Donald Tusk who said in a divorce one party can’t stay in the house for another 6 months but if Tusk and his colleagues put out the bins and washed the car a bit more maybe things could work out?