BY SEAN FLYNN
The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently admitted that “we (Irish) should be afraid” of a no deal Brexit taking place. Meanwhile Irish businesses, like the alcohol industry, have warned that a no-deal Brexit could see Irish jobs at risk, businesses shut down and expensive tariffs tacked on to drinks. A report from the Central Bank of Ireland (ICB) has also predicted that a no-deal Brexit would cause an economic shock of “unprecedented nature”. The ICB predicted that a no-deal would immediately push Ireland from being the eurozone’s fastest growing economy to its slowest. A recent opinion poll published by the Irish Independent on Sunday showed that just 43 percent of people said they were satisfied with the Irish leader’s approach to Brexit.
So why is Leo Varadkar refusing top negotiate the backstop element of the UK Withdrawal Agreement? Why is he digging in while those on both sides of the Irish Channel are clamouring for a change in approach?
One theory doing the rounds is that hardline Brexiteer UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is going to get ousted via a vote of no confidence – and be replaced by a Government of national unity or by Jeremy Corbyn after a General Election. This seems an unlikely scenario given Boris’ jumps in the polls, Remainer divisions and Corbyn’s popularity slump.
Another theory is that Varadkar is an EU puppet. His loud diplomacy less reflects the UK-Ireland friendship across business and culture – reflecting more the tough stance of EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the ideology-obsessed EU. Paul Moran, associate director at Kantar, said of the 43% popularity poll: “This poll suggests that there is uneasiness with the current government strategy and, arguably, its megaphone diplomacy.”
The more likely interpretation of Varadkar’s stance is poor advice. Varadkar’s advisers are feeling the pressure in their bunker and know that unless their boss sticks to his guns and wins out then his time as Taoiseach is over anyway. There still remains the possibility – however unlikely – that either the UK or EU will fold before October 31st and some kind of arrangement will fall into place that avoids no deal. At this point Varadkar’s spin merchants could claim victory and describe past behaviour as a necessary evil, which riled many of our British friends but for their own good.
Personally, as a resident of Connemara, I think Varadkar is surrounded by poor quality advisers, who have failed to get the message across to Irish businesses that no deal is now the most likely scenario. The prevailing wind is now clearly behind a no deal Brexit – it gives the UK a far better position from which to negotiate with the EU, especially with other trade partners like the US pushing in on the UK market before the EU gets its ducks in line. Varadkar should be doing all he can to avoid a no deal Brexit by acting as a go-between for Johnson with Brussels rather than acting as their whipping boy. If Britain is forced into a No Deal then its people will unite behind Boris Johnson – not call for a second referendum as a way out.
It is clear that due to the Republic’s close economic and trading relationship with the UK, Ireland will be impacted more than any other EU country by No Deal. The size of Ireland’s economy could be around 5% smaller than forecast in 10 years’ time if there’s No Deal. Employment is predicted to be 3.4% lower in the long run if there’s a crash out compared to Britain staying in. Officials say the economic hit of No Deal could push Ireland’s budget deficit into the region of –0.5% to –1.5% of GDP for next year. Ireland’s geographical position makes it particularly vulnerable to disruptions to the supply or price of oil, gas or electricity. These are not Project Fear assessments – these are the consequences of losing your closest business partner overnight.
Varadkar is playing with fire.
Not in my name.