The United Kingdom is that odd thing – an island nation with a land border (with the Republic of Ireland).
In terms of population and GDP (though not GDP per head), the two neighbours are highly unequal. Therefore, major policy developments in the Republic aren’t always noticed in the UK (apart from Northern Ireland). But for the same reason, the reverse does not apply. A big decision made on this side of the Irish Sea might make a big difference on the other side.
Right now, decisions don’t get much bigger than the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
According to a report by Arthur Beesley in the Irish Times, there are those in Ireland who believe that ‘Brexit’ could be followed by ‘Irexit’:
“The boss of Ireland’s largest business lobby group has said an Irish exit from the EU might become ‘inevitable’ if Britain leaves the union.
“Danny McCoy, who has led Ibec since 2009, told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an interview that Ireland’s departure from the EU could not be ruled out in a ‘Brexit’ situation…
“‘If Britain should decide on an exit, there will definitely be a debate in Ireland on whether we should not do the same,’ Mr McCoy told the German paper.”
If the trauma of the Eurozone crisis was not enough to shake Ireland lose from Europe, why on earth would a British departure change Irish minds?
“…Mr McCoy said Ireland could suffer ‘potentially enormous’ damage if Britain post-exit became a magnet for foreign direct investment on the back of lower business taxes and economic deregulation.
“Such moves could lead multinationals based in Ireland to relocate to Britain, calling Ireland’s EU membership into question.”
These are provocative opinions – as is Mr McCoy’s judgement that Britain could do well outside of the EU:
“‘Everybody says Britain will lose out by leaving – all based on the assumption that somehow Britain’s decision to leaves would be very costly for them,’ he said.
“‘There’s only one concrete example of this kind in the past. That was in relation to Britain’s decision to stay out of the euro. Britain was told: ‘If you don’t go into euro, London as a financial capital would be diminished.’
“‘This never materialised and the City of London financial market had strengthened in the period since the single currency was introduced.’”
It is often implied that the EU would punish the UK if we ever decided to leave. Global agreements mean that free trade between Britain and our neighbours is less dependent on EU membership than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that an EU scorned couldn’t make life more difficult for British businesses trading with Europe. However, the bunny boiler option would also damage EU businesses trading with Britain – with particular harm being done to the Irish economy.
Would the EU stab Ireland in the back just to hurt Britain? One would hope not.
A final thought: It is often argued that Britain must remain within the EU to have a say over important decisions made in Brussels. But would the same people tell Ireland that it must rejoin the UK to have a say over important decisions made in London? The answer, of course, is no – because that would be deeply disrespectful of Irish sovereignty.
If those who want to keep Britain within the EU want to win the referendum, then they should show some respect for British sovereignty too.