Monday, 26 November 2018

A sad day

This is a sad day for me and millions more committed Europeans, as the European Council and the Government of the United Kingdom agree the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

This decision drives a knife through my heart and my family. I am a proud European and Irish citizen, who is also by birth a British citizen. My children and all but one of my seven grandsons were born in Britain and are British citizens. If the withdrawal agreement is finally ratified by the parliaments of the United Kingdom and the European Union, on the 29th March 2019 their European citizenship will be taken away from them. They will lose the right they currently enjoy to move freely to study, to work and to live throughout the EU 27, unless they choose to take up the Irish and European citizenship to which they are entitled through me.

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May is a bad deal for the UK. It takes away many of the rights enjoyed by the UK and will be economically damaging, because the free trade agreement between the EU and the UK, which has yet to be negotiated, will inevitably be worse for the UK economy than remaining in the EU. But at least it would keep the UK within the European Union ecosystem of shared regulation and trade on a level playing field, even if the UK will be unable to participate in making the regulations, as it has for the past 40 years. It also holds out the hope of future membership of the Customs Union and Single Market, and perhaps in future rejoining the European Union. But for now it looks unlikely that there is a majority in the Houise of Commons to confirm it.

The Withdrawal Agreement is infinitely better for both the UK and the EU, in particular Ireland, than the alternative of the UK leaving without an agreement - a hard Brexit. The UK would then have to trade with the world under WTA rules and tariffs. The just-in-time supply chains for food and goods would be shattered - a recipe for economic chaos, not just in the short term, but for years to come. The main casualty would be the UK economy, but it would also cause real problems us in Ireland, particularly for agri-business in rural Ireland, and to a lesser extent in other EU countries. It would effect me seriously - already my UK pension is worth nearly 15% less than it was before the Brexit vote, and Sterling can be expected to fall further in the event of hard Brexit. I find it very hard to believe that there is a majority in the House of Commons to follow this route.

What then are the alternatives? Many remainers are campaigning for a 'Peoples' Vote'. They justify it by saying that now people know more about what Brexit means they are entitled to vote again. If May's agreement falls in Parliament, they would like to call a 2nd referendum, and ask the EU to stop the clock on Brexit until this has been held. But it is not clear what question would be put to the people. This would be a high risk strategy. It appears that there has been very little change in popular opinion, which remains split close to 50:50, and I see a real possibility of another vote to leave, precipitating the hard Brexit no sane person wants to see.

The preferred alternative for the Labour leadership is to force a general election, which they believe would return Labour to power, perhaps in coalition, after which they would negotiate to stay in the Customs Union, if not the Single Market. This is also a high risk strategy. It is not at all clear that Labour would win such an election, nor that the EU would be prepared to reopen negotiations.

It seems to me that the UK political system is in a state of disfunctional collapse. There is no majority in Parliament for any course. The 'Fixed Term Parliaments Act' - a foolish innovation - makes it almost impossible to elect a new Parliament. The 50:50 split in the popular view of Brexit has held almost steady since 2016. The peoples of Scotland and Northern Ireland are increasingly at odds with a Westminster Parliament dominated by England.

I fear that continuing deadlock may bring the question to be answered on the streets, by violence. The Remain camp have already showed that they can mobilise up to 700,000 on the streets of London. No doubt the hard Brexit camp could do much the same in their heartlands, and bring with them a hard core of neo-fascist thugs. Fighting on the streets would undermine British democracy.

Much as my heart would love to see a reverse of Brexit, I wonder if the best way forward would be to pass May's Withdrawal Agreement, and to work to bring the final outcome as close as possible to EU membership in the long run.

I pray for the politicians in London, and Brussels and the EU27, that the decisions they make may be for the common good.

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