State must prepare for ‘car crash’ on Brexit, AIB chairman warns

Banker and Minister accuse UK politicians of misleading British public over EU talks

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said UK politicians had misled the public in terms of what is achievable in talks with the EU. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said UK politicians had misled the public in terms of what is achievable in talks with the EU. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

 

The State must plan for a “car crash” in case “headbanger” Brexiteers pushing for a hard exit from the European Union get their way, AIB chairman Richard Pym has said.

Speaking at an AIB Treasury event on international trade and the intricacies of Brexit negotiations at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Friday, Mr Pym said Britain’s decision to leave the EU was “quite extraordinary” from a business point of view.

“I can assure you a lot of British businesses feel the same,” said Mr Pym, who had a long career in British banking before joining AIB. “We must plan for the worst possible car crash Brexit if the headbanger Brexiteers who are determined to push for a hard Brexit get their way.”

Mr Pym said the Brexit campaign had made promises it simply cannot keep.

“They promised continued access to the single market while controlling immigration, and access to the customs union whilst developing additional trade deals.

“On immigration, there is ample evidence they can’t run the current system – never mind form a new one. Their currency has tanked, inflation is increasing, and euro-zone growth now exceeds the UK’s.

“The macabre irony is that the delay in the implementation of Brexit means the UK will [in the meantime] have to comply with EU rules that they have no hand in making.”

Close partners

Mr Pym added that Britain and Ireland have been “extremely close partners” but that turbulent waters lie ahead.

“AIB is in great shape,” he said. “Ireland is in great shape. Working together, we can get through this. But it would be much better if we didn’t have to.”

Speaking after Mr Pym, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said he had mentioned to the AIB chairman beforehand that his speech was not neutral.

“He said it’s not a time to be neutral, and he’s right,” said Mr Coveney. “I’m not coming at this from any sort of Anglophobic position. I care about and am interested in Britain’s future, as well as Ireland’s future. But my job here is to look out for Ireland’s interests and Irish people’s interests in the context of what we are facing.

“This is a hugely challenging negotiation that is not of the making of any other country apart from Britain.”

Mr Coveney said UK politicians had misled the public in terms of what is achievable in talks with the EU.

“What has been promised politically in the UK is simply undeliverable,” he said. “The realisation of that is dropping slowly.

“We must work towards a deal that recognises there are consequences to leaving the EU. That’s not a punishment. It is simply a fact that membership of the EU brings privileges, such as the trading structure.

“Leaving the EU cannot result in holding on to all the trade benefits of membership, while at the same time convincing your people that you can get all these other goodies. It can’t be done. It won’t be done, and it cannot be negotiated.”

Mr Coveney said the British people had made a “huge mistake” in its vote to leave the EU.

“The consequences of leaving the EU are now being laid bare,” he said. “This is a huge mistake by the British people, but it is their mistake to make. We have to accept the reality of it.

“The outcome we want is as close to the status quo as we can get. I’m not sure that view is necessarily shared – and understandably so – by other EU members states.”

Former European Commission secretary-general Catherine Day said the UK would “eventually wake up to the fact that they have way less influence in the world, and they will hate that”.

“They haven’t yet realised that the power play has changed completely, and that it will be the EU that sets the terms of their departure,” she said. “If that doesn’t happen, there will be no deal.”

Ms Day added that the UK’s exit from the EU would lift a “restraint” that it has placed on the bloc.

“I detect a new confidence in the EU,” she said. “A feeling that the UK has been a restraint on moving forward for a long time, and that has now been lifted. Sovereignty in a globalised world is an illusion. We only have clout if we work together.”