It is not just Apple which is testing the loyalty and commitment of the Irish to the European project. Ireland is now, along with Apple, challenging the European Union’s demand that this Corporation pay a double-digit billion tax bill to Ireland. Strange as it may seem – although it is not at all strange – Ireland sees much more value in the employment Apple and multiple other giant investors bring to its economy than it does in a once-off windfall. Add to that the dilemma which Brexit has confronted Ireland with and the unthinkable is beginning to become more and more thinkable. Where ultimately does Ireland’s interest as a thriving economy and as an independent nation lie – inside or outside of the European Union?
Yesterday, in the Dublin paper, the Sunday Business Post (see here), an Irish diplomat and former Irish ambassador to Canada, Mr. Ray Basset, wrote of his worries about the path of least resistance which the Irish administration seems to be taking on the question of the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union.
Irish economist and journalist, David McWilliams, comments at length on the implications of what Basset is saying, implying as he does that the Irish government has decided that there is no special relationship with Britain, and that our attitude to Britain and Brexit will be subservient to the EU’s attitude.
“The idea that there is no special relationship”, McWilliams says, “is not only patently false (I’m writing this from Belfast, for God’s sake!), such a cavalier attitude to our nearest neighbour is extremely dangerous economically, verging on the financially treacherous.”
“Insane” is his description of the view that Ireland’s position with respect to Brexit is in any way similar to that of France or Germany or, worse still, to the likes of Hungary. Why? There are multiple reasons: “There are 500,000 Irish citizens living in England. We have a land border with Britain and a bilateral international treaty, the Good Friday Agreement, with London.
“We are umbilically attached to Britain in our two most labour-intensive industries, agriculture and tourism, where the British are by far our biggest clients. One-third of our imports come from Britain. The Dublin/London air corridor is the busiest route in Europe and one of the busiest in the world. In fact, the Irish airline Ryanair is the biggest airline in Britain, carrying far more British people every year than British Airways.”
McWilliams’ very perceptive comment lays out some of the details of the folly he perceives in what appears to be the Irish States’ status quo on negotiations. For him it is tantamount to a government acting against the interest of its own economy. Apart altogether from the social and economic rupture between Ireland and Britain which the hard line which European negotiators are currently taking on Brexit would cause, there is the risk of a potential trade war with Britain where Ireland can only be damaged immeasurably.
McWilliam’s analysis and fears make a great deal of sense – up to the point where he goes on to protest that he is not himself a eurosceptic – or anything like it. Admittedly he is worried about Europe’s federalist agenda and its implications. Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator on Brexit, is a committed federalist.
“Under his federalist vision, the Irish consulate in Spain would be scrapped – so that if an Irish lad got a battering from the Guardia Civil, for example, there would be no Irish consulate to listen to his case and help him out. He also advocated in this report to close down all (Irish and other) consulates in non-EU countries and replace these with one EU consulate.”
McWilliam’s argument, however, is that we should stay in the EU, but draw the line at the present EU. “We shouldn’t embrace any further integrationist stuff nor sign up to any further federalist projects. This means doing precisely the opposite of the Brits. Rather than following the British out of the EU, we should vow never to leave it. The EU can’t kick us out. There is no mechanism. We should simply opt out of Mr Barnier’s plans. This means we have full access to the EU, but we don’t need nor want to go any further – not because of some cultural aversion, but because it’s not in our interest.”
But surely there is a great weakness in that argument, a weakness which the history of Ireland’s relationship with the Union screams out to us. There is no stopping the European juggernaut. When Britain tried to modify it, to bring it to a more common sense position and one which would show more respect for the sovereignty of the nations which make it up, it was in effect sent packing.
Consider the negotiations of David Cameron when he tried to head off Brexit. Like a famous predecessor he proclaimed that he had plucked a flower from a bed of nettles – but what he got turned into the nightmare which destroyed his political career.
Ireland’s history of two referendums on European treaties where it said “no” to the path Europe was taking speaks for itself. It was soft-soaped, sent back to think again and came up with the “yes” which the juggernaut needed to go forward.
There are many who think that the juggernaut has already gone down the path of self-destruction. It may be so – and this may be the only way that a little country like Ireland will be able to find it own way and exercise the self-determination it needs to make its way in the wider world – which is where its future must surely lie.
Which is what Nigel Farage is essentially saying here.