Richard Chambers on why a Hard Brexit should be met with a firm response
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” - Mike Tyson.
When tartan-clad Theresa May stepped to the podium in Lancaster House on Tuesday for the grand-unveiling of her Brexit vision, she assured us she had a plan.
She assured us the UK will leave the Single Market and still have all the access in the world to it. She assured us the Common Travel Area will be maintained with Ireland. She assured us there will be no return to the borders of the past.
Sadly, like Mike Tyson’s soundly-battered opponents, Prime Minister May - and our own government here in Ireland - are about to find out that the punch in the mouth of reality can undo all strategies.
Her “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain” threat may have played well in the impressively-blinkered pro-Brexit press, who rushed to crown May as the new 'Iron Lady', but the reaction from the continent ranged from bemusement to derision.
The triumphalism and jingoism of the Brexiteers’ handling of all of this is among the most worrying developments in Western society in many years. It’s no surprise to see Nigel Farage and Brexit-bankroller Aaron Banks tickled pink at Theresa May’s speech borrowing heavily from the rhetoric they’ve used for years.
What’s happened to common sense and reason? It’s a great shame to see one of the most prestigious democracies to ever exist reduced to self-harm with no strong opposition coming from the Prime Minister’s opposite number, Jeremy Corbyn.
HSBC says it’s moving 1,000 of its British-based jobs to Paris. UBS says it will move some of its 5,000 UK workers to the continent. Why is nobody alarmed about this?
What do you notice about those two developments? No mention of Dublin. There has been so much hype about attracting financial services from the City of London to Ireland in recent months, but a recent study by Movinga has shown we’re not the magnet for investment we think we are. The rent is too high, it costs too much to relocate and services like electricity and communications are too expensive.
Simply put, we need action. We need to get tough, and we need to get smart. Our national interest is being threatened here. The softly-softly approach that characterised Enda Kenny’s initial reaction to the referendum must now be abandoned in light of Theresa May’s 'Hard Brexit' gameplan.
How will we protect Irish export-driven jobs? What will be done to cut costs for businesses setting up in Ireland? What’s going to be done to ensure we have office space for any company which may be coaxed into a Liffey-side move? Will we be ready to adapt if post-Brexit Britain cuts its corporation tax? These are all questions that need urgent answers.
Everyone talks about Theresa May ‘pulling the trigger’ on Article 50. It’s a good analogy. Given what we now know about her government’s outlook, and the failure of her country’s press and opposition to seriously challenge them, the bullet from that Article 50 shot will rip right through us. According to the Department of Finance, it could sever our exports, haemorrhage as many as 40,000 jobs, and bleed out our economic prospects.
The funny thing is, despite the obvious difficulties that will present themselves to the United Kingdom along the way, London will probably be alright.
For all the doom and gloom, the markets are pragmatic, and there will be a huge international interest in preserving the City of London. Dublin might not be so lucky, and time’s running out for the Government to get us ready for the battles to come.