Ireland has two bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations
There are a couple of peripheral issues that the Government needs to exploit
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
If the financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that the goodwill of fellow EU members counts for zero when it comes to negotiations.
Remember all the assurances we received about retroactive bank recapitalisation? The widespread acknowledgement that a historic wrong had been foisted on the Irish State, primarily to protect bondholders in other countries, many of whom had already written off the losses?
None of it counted in the end, nor when it came to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s subsequent attempts to burn Anglo bondholders. Ireland was viewed as the author of its own difficulties; the taxpayer here was collateral damage.
We should bear this in mind when it comes to Brexit. EU countries have been making the right noises about Ireland’s unique vulnerability, but there’s no escaping the ironclad logic, from the EU’s perspective, that Britain can’t be left better off outside the bloc. This would effectively invite others to leave, with far-reaching consequences for the EU’s future development.
Ireland has, however, two bargaining chips that can be injected into the negotiations when they start in earnest. The first is political and centres around the Border. The return of a hard Border could reignite a flashpoint on Europe’s western fringe, a scenario that the EU and the UK seem genuinely keen to avoid.
On his recent visit here, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, stressed that one of the highest priorities in the Brexit negotiations was to protect the Northern Irish peace process.
The second bit of leverage we hold is economic. Being locked out of the UK’s market or competitively pushed aside will inevitably result in our produce, which is considerable when it comes to sectors such as agriculture, being displaced onto the EU market.
Having an additional 270,000 tons of beef bounced into Europe would have extremely negative implications for French and German producers. In other words, displacement is not only a bad for us, it’s a bad for other EU countries.
These arguments may be peripheral to the central issues of Britain’s exit but they hold weight and the Irish Government should exploit them.